A consortium of five New York City defined benefit pension plans has led a successful campaign to launch an external review of labour practices at Starbucks Corp.

NYC Retirement Systems, which includes the NYC Board of Education Retirement System, the NYC Fire Pension Fund, the NYC Fire Pension, the NYC Police Pension Fund and the NYC Teachers’ Retirement System, launched a shareholder motion requiring Starbucks to undergo a third-party review of its workers’ rights. The measure, which received the support of 52 per cent of shareholders, passed in spite of opposition from Starbucks’ board of directors.

While the motion was expected to be introduced by Brad Lander, comptroller of the NYCRS and the motion’s author, it was instead introduced by Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs. In his speech at the annual general meeting, Frerichs said the motion was prompted by a “multitude of allegations” that Starbucks had interfered with workers’ rights.

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“Recent events have called into question whether Starbucks is actually living up to its commitments, specifically its explicit commitments to the fundamental right of employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining — this includes the right to form or join a union without management interference.” said Frerichs. “We note that, among a multitude of allegations, Starbucks has interfered with these rights engaging in retaliation, intimidation, surveillance and firings.”

Frerichs appeared to be referencing a decision from the National Labor Relations Board last month. In it, a judge found the coffee chain had fired seven workers, closed one of its stores and violated workers’ rights in order to stifle a unionization campaign in Buffalo, NY. As a result of the decision, Starbucks was required to post notices of various violations at its U.S. locations.

In her response to Frerichs, Jennifer Kraft, chair of Starbucks’ board of directors, noted the company has launched a third-party review of its human rights impact. “We expect to make the results of the human rights impact assessment available to shareholders, stakeholders and other interested parties by the end of our 2023 fiscal year, subject to privilege considerations.”

Starbucks isn’t the only corporate investee to face a shareholder motion addressing workers rights from the NYCRS. This week, the consortium announced it would petition shareholders of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. to back a motion that would install a policy of non-interference related to employees’ efforts to unionize.

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