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Starbucks told to ‘Respect the Welsh language’

Starbucks language row: Cymdeithas protest at Aber franchise
Starbucks language row: Cymdeithas protest at Aber franchise

MEMBERS of the Pantycelyn group of Cymdeithas yr Iaith gathered outside Aberystwyth Starbucks on Friday (April 29) calling on the company to respect the Welsh language.

The action followed an allegation by star soprano Gwawr Edwards that she overheard a member of Starbucks staff told a customer to ‘Speak English or get out’.

The company now denies the incident happened at all.

Manon Elin, chair of Cymdeithas’ language rights group who is also a member of the Pantycelyn group said: “It strikes us as odd that someone, with a high public profile, would tweet about something like this if there is no truth to it.

“But the fact remains that the company, like every other company, should ensure that all staff are aware of the importance of offering a service in Welsh, and that the Welsh language has official status.

“It is the staff’s responsibility to learn Welsh to serve customers, not expect customers to use English. As there was an allegation that an individual’s freedom to speak Welsh was interfered with, which is illegal, we have asked the Welsh Language Commissioner to investigate.”

Councillor Mark Strong who joined the group at Starbucks on Friday told the Herald that they got a far from friendly reaction when they asked politely, in Welsh, to speak to the manager.

Elfed Jones, Chair of the Pantycelyn group of Cymdeithas yr Iaith said: “Cymdeithas has sent a letter to the company’s national HQ about the situation but we felt that something should be done locally too. We encourage everyone to go to local cafes.

“But given that not everyone will want to do so, all staff at Starbucks should have language awareness training, and be provided with Welsh lessons.”

Since the allegation hit the headlines a number of people have agreed publicly that it would be better to buy one’s coffee from an independent local business.

Sam Mackenzie-Grevy of MGs in Aberystwyth told The Herald why people should use her café and other independent local shops: “Local businesses support other local businesses. The likes of Starbucks, Costa, Coffee #1 and Café Nero bring their goods in on big lorries from huge factories far away.

“We buy from a local wholesaler and from local bakeries, butchers and so on. The money circulates in our community rather than being sucked out.”

The Starbucks brand is one of those that have become synonymous with the ‘death of the British high Street’.

An American chain, Starbucks is based in Seattle. The corporation is the largest coffeehouse company in the world with over 800 stores in Britain and 20,891 in 64 countries worldwide. Campaigners accuse the multi-billion dollar Starbucks of killing off local cafés through unfair or aggressive competition.

Ethical Consumer magazine reports that, although Starbuck’s has tried to clean up its image by introducing the option of Fairtrade coffee, the corporation’s image has been tarnished by scandals over tax avoidance.

Starbucks has been severely criticised for paying millions in royalties and interest from its UK businesses to its companies abroad, thereby reducing its UK tax bill.

Bowing to pressure from HM Revenue and Customs, in 2015 Starbucks did pay £8.1m in UK corporation tax. However, that payment was roughly equal to the total it paid over the past 14 years despite making sales of £3billion during that period.

Critics call for Starbuck’s to make its accounts more transparent. Its pre-tax profits for 2015 were £34.2m to the end of September.

In 2015, the corporation’s best paid director was paid £282,842. In the same year a barista earned £6.77 an hour before Starbucks increased that to a new national living wage of £7.20 set by the UK government.

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Jon Coles

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