Baristas at multiple Starbucks locations in Seoul united to protest their excessive workload following a highly successful marketing campaign that drew in long lines of customers.
Talks about the protest began after Starbucks held a promotional event on September 28 in honor of the coffee chain’s 50th anniversary. The event was called Reusable Cup Day, and customers lined up to receive their coffee in limited edition reusable plastic cups.
To receive the reusable cup, customers had to order any of the handcrafted beverages included on the Starbucks menu. Handcrafted beverages include all espresso-based drinks, Frappuccinos, seasonal drinks, iced teas, and iced coffees. Essentially, handcrafted beverages are any drinks the baristas have to actually make themselves. As the baristas were faced with a huge influx of customers ordering handcrafted beverages, many of them were overwhelmed by the massive workload.
Song Ho Seob, the CEO of Starbucks Korea, issued an apology to workers via internal email after the Reusable Cup Day event. In the email, Song Ho Seob said, “We have put great pressure on our partners due to insufficiencies in the preparation process.” He also said Starbucks would strengthen communication within the company, discuss how to improve future promotional events, and ensure increased flexibility regarding personnel management.
Song Ho Seob also sat down with 20 Starbucks employees to hear their thoughts on how the company could improve.
Although baristas voiced their complaints about being overloaded with work during promotional events, Starbucks still planned to hold another event on October 17, which pushed the baristas to protest. During the October 17 event, customers who have purchased a certain number of drinks will receive special Starbucks merchandise.
Starbucks employees rented two trucks and drove past multiple Starbucks locations in Seoul, including South Korea’s very first Starbucks, which is located near Ehwa Womans University. The workers also drove past the 1,000th South Korean location, which is located in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul. The signs on the trucks read “Starbucks Partners are not expendable. Partners, who have raised their voices for the first time in 22 years, shall not be silenced.”
The baristas also spoke up about their working conditions. They said they like making and serving coffee, but they’re tired of being constantly involved in marketing campaigns. They said, “Our resting area in the shops are barely 16 square meters in area, and we eat our lunch and dinner next to mops. We just want to sell coffee instead of being involved in marketing campaigns all year long.”
The 2-day protest is expected to continue to Friday, October 8.