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Shareholder challenges Starbucks on key employee benefit policy

"We offer a more robust benefits package than any other retail company," proudly notes a Starbucks corporate spokesperson.

A major company shareholder doesn't care a whit about that assessment, and is instead challenging the leading coffee chain to promptly reconsider a key company benefit that treats different classifications of workers in unequal fashion.

Specifically, this is what concerns Zevin Asset Management, which also holds positions in other major companies such as Costco, Target, Apple and CVS and has cited the same concern regarding their businesses: family leave policies following childbirth that differ based on whether a worker is a corporate or retail employee, respectively.

There is indeed a material gap between the benefit that Starbucks offers a mother working in a corporate office and that extended to a mom employed in the retail sphere. The former gets 16 weeks of paid leave following childbirth. Time off for the retail parent is limited to six weeks.

And as for fathers, corporate dad gets 12 weeks off, with his retail counterpart not receiving any benefit at all.

Zenin charges that the differentiated policy gives rise to "reputational liability" at Starbucks, given that there is a clear chasm between what the company says regarding worker equality and what it actually does to promote that stated aim.

Some commentators say that a proposal submitted to Starbucks by Zenin doesn't actually have to be passed to promote material change at the company. Its mere existence and the attendant spotlight it focuses on the company can spur internal discussion at Starbucks and perhaps lead to an adjustment of its paid family leave policies.

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