Whether it’s through mobile order and pick up or simply having stores on every other street corner in every major city on the globe, Starbucks has proven that it’s committed to making drinking coffee as simple as humanly possible. However, that mission statement doesn’t appear to have made it all the way across Starbucks’ global empire.
Twitter user Manar N posted on Feb. 1 that she had been trying to order a coffee from a Starbucks in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, when she was refused service and told to leave the coffeeshop — all because of her gender. In a tweet, Manar N also showed a sign posted on the outside of the Starbucks instructing women not to enter and to send their drivers in to order and pick up drinks on their behalf.
The tweet quickly caught fire, embroiling not only the Riyadh store in question but also Starbucks’ corporate office in social media-fueled outrage. While a large number of users called for an outright boycott of Starbucks for the incident, a deeper reading of the intersection of local laws and international trade muddies the waters significantly.
The International Business Times reported that before this particular sign went up outside the Riyadh store, the coffeeshop wasn’t exactly an egalitarian space. In fact, the store — much like others across socially and religiously conservative Saudi Arabia — had a “gender-separating wall” that segregated female customers from their male counterparts, a not-uncommon social dictum in the region.
“At Starbucks, we adhere to the local customs of Saudi Arabia by providing separate entrances for families as well as single people,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “In addition, all our stores provide equal amenities, service, menu, and seating to men, women and families.”