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Israel Hamas war: Are brand boycotts based on accurate information?

FILE - A woman walks past a Starbucks Coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in July 2017
FILE - A woman walks past a Starbucks Coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in July 2017 Copyright AP Photo/Daniel Chan
Copyright AP Photo/Daniel Chan
By Sophia Khatsenkova with AP & AFP
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Starbucks and Zara, among others, have faced boycotts for allegedly supporting Israel. However, are some of these calls fueled by disinformation?

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You may have noticed more and more people calling for a boycott of brands such as Zara and Starbucks on social media.

According to certain accounts, these brands are openly supporting Israel amid the country's war with Hamas. 

But there's a lot of disinformation going around especially when it comes to the impact of these calls for a boycott. 

AI-generated ad misrepresented as protest against Zara

A video showing Zara clothes being dumped in Times Square in New York City to protest against a controversial advertising campaign by the company has been viewed millions of times on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. 

"After Zara made a disrespectful ad about the Gaza conflict, Americans are throwing away all their Zara clothes in front of the company," claimed one X user who is known for spreading disinformation. 

In mid-December, Zara published a campaign, which some people thought was mocking the suffering of Palestinians due to the presence of rubble and what looked like white body bags. 

Zara quickly pulled the ad and claimed the photoshoot took place in the summer, before Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel on 7 October.

But by doing a reverse image search of the viral footage of the supposed dumped clothes in Times Square, The Cube ended up finding the original clip. It was posted in November 2023 and has nothing to do with the conflict.

The video was posted on the official account of the second-hand fashion platform Vestiaire Collective. 

@vestiairecollective With 92 million tons of textiles sent to landfill every year, now’s the time to act. That’s why, from today, we’re banning another 30 fast fashion brands from Vestiaire Collective, including Zara, H&M, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mango, Urban Outfitters, and Uniqlo. Ready to join the movement? #thinkfirstbuysecond♬ original sound - Vestiaire Collective

The company announced it was banning thirty fast fashion brands from its shop, including Zara.

Vestiaire Collective spokeswoman told AFP that a French agency specialising in AI created the video.

She said the clip was released "nearly a month" before the Zara ads as part of a company initiative against fast fashion. 

Did Starbucks shut down in Morocco?

We’ve seen similar claims of how boycotts have impacted the coffee giant Starbucks. 

In an Instagram video posted beginning of December, a woman claims the chain had to shut down in Morocco due to the protests.

"For those of you who say boycotting doesn't work, Starbucks in Morocco is literally leaving the country... Explicitly for the reasons of the lack of revenue they've had because of the pro-Palestine protest in all of Morocco," she alleged. 

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She mentions an article from the New Arab as her source, which claims Starbucks and H&M are both leaving Morocco "due to low demand tied to the ongoing boycott campaign."

But when taking a closer look, The Cube found this article cited another one from a Moroccan local newspaper, Maroc Hebdo.

However, neither article has any evidence to back the claim the boycott shut down the cafés in the country.

Since then, the New Arab updated their article to include comments from the spokesperson behind the franchise which runs Starbucks in Morocco, who denied the claims and confirmed that all 18 Starbucks stores will continue operating in the country.

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Why are people boycotting Starbucks?

According to the AP, shortly after fighting between Israel and Hamas erupted, a Starbucks Workers United account tweeted in support of Palestine.

Starbucks filed a lawsuit against the trade union over the post, saying it angered hundreds of customers and damaged its reputation.

Controversy towards Starbucks' response has led some to boycott the coffee giant. 

It's true that Starbucks' stock market price is down by nearly $11 billion (€10bn) during the past month. 

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Are these losses in any way related to the boycott? Analysts say it’s hard to know the impact these boycott calls are having on the company’s stock price but have expressed doubt that the protests are the cause of the decline.

"Some data suggests Starbucks isn’t doing as well, or at least not as well as expected. It appears its deals and specials just aren’t hitting as well as anticipated," according to an analysis by Vox. 

However, in its latest financial release from November 2023, the company didn’t indicate a slowdown in earnings. 

A clearer picture won’t come until its next financial release in February 2024.

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