Impact Investing, News

April 3, 2023

The Catherine Donnelly Foundation plays role in historic U.S. vote on labour rights

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The Catherine Donnelly Foundation plays role in historic U.S. vote on labour rights

April 3, 2023

The Catherine Donnelly Foundation, in partnership with SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research and Education), has played a role in a landmark win for U.S. workers. On March 24th, Starbucks Corporation shareholders voted yes to a proposal asking the coffee giant to conduct an independent assessment of its activities related to union-busting. The motion read:

The Starbucks Board to commission and oversee an independent, third-party assessment of Starbucks’ adherence to its stated commitment to workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights as contained in the International Labour Organization’s Core Labor Standards and as explicitly referenced in the company’s Global Human Rights Statement.

The multinational has been accused of illegally suppressing efforts by Starbucks Workers United to unionize the roughly 9,300 corporate-owned retail locations. (Read more about their “aggressive campaign to interfere with freedom of association rights” here.) Just prior to the announcement of the vote, former-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz faced a U.S. Senate panel about the company’s compliance with federal labor law.

The collective action of progressive shareholders is protecting the environment, defending social justice, and strengthening the right of workers. The successful proxy motion was filed by a coalition of Starbucks investors, including SHARE on behalf of the Foundation, and is thought to be the FIRST affirmative majority vote at a North American company on a fundamental labour rights issue.

Following the non-binding vote, Starbucks noted they had previously committed to “undertaking an independent, third-party human rights impact assessment, which will include a deeper-level review of the principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.” The Seattle-based company said it will use findings of the review to “understand how we can best support our partners.”

“In the past year, investors have sent a clear message – at Amazon, Tesla, and now at Starbucks: companies must respect international standards – and their own policies – regarding freedom of association” said Anthony Schein, Director of Shareholder Advocacy at SHARE. “It is time for Starbucks management to wake up and smell the coffee – and change their approach to fundamental labour rights. I look forward to a renewed engagement with the company.”

The vote continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Foundation’s strategy of filing shareholder proposals to effect change on a range of issues. SHARE, which coordinates shareholder engagement work for the Foundation, engaged with 18 of our portfolio companies in 2022 with Sustainable Finance and Just Transition as the primary engagement areas. Other areas included Technology & Civil Rights, Reducing GHG Emissions, Decent Work in Branded Operations, and Investing in the Indigenous Economy.

In addition to Starbucks, CDF filed four shareholders proposals through SHARE to Amazon, Brookfield Renewable Partners, Canadian Solar and Onex Corp. Our proposal related to Canadian Solar forced them to accept a third-party assessment of the labour practices of their suppliers in China to ensure the company isn’t benefiting from the practice of employing forced work among Uyghur, Kazakh and other ethnic minorities who are known to work in conditions which violate human rights obligations. This was a major victory for shareholders.

You can read more about the historic victory in this press release from New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who was also part of the coalition that filed the proposal. A CNBC news story provides additional context here.

For more information about the Catherine Donnelly Foundation’s involvement in the Starbucks’ proxy vote or how we use our investments to serve the causes we care about contact Communication and Policy Officer Steve Brearton at