How Starbucks Korea Responded To The Controversy Around Its New Giveaway

Starbucks officially exited South Korea last summer, selling its 50% stake to its partners E-Market and the Singapore-based wealth fund company GIC (via Channel News Asia). It may come as a shocker but Starbucks no longer owns its cafes in South Korea — its fifth-largest market in the world — and the company's former partners only operate Starbucks Korea under the Seattle-based coffee chain's banner through a licensing agreement. While the reasons for the exit remain unknown, Starbucks Korea has faced several problems since.

Frustrated Starbucks Korea's employees have staged several demonstrations in response to understaffing and overwhelming workload caused by frequent merchandise launches throughout the year (via The Korea Bizwire). Some baristas even recount a pile-up of as many as 650 drink orders at a time on busy days (via Al Jazeera). News Directory3 also reports complaints from customers over pricey Chicken Club Sandwiches which are reportedly sparse on filling and contain little to nothing in vegetables and sauces. Customers have also raised concerns over the smell of gasoline in the coffee chain's new paper straws in April this year. The smell, a Starbucks Korea spokesperson told KoreaJoongAng Daily, was from a production method used to prevent the paper straws from getting soggy. The straws have since been pulled from all locations.

Now, another Starbucks item is being accused of being laced with a harmful chemical and this time, the coffee house is responding by offering to take them all back from customers (via Korea Economic Daily).

Free drinks in exchange for a supposedly chemical-laced bag

According to Korea Economic Daily, the Summer Carry Bag in question was a part of the Starbucks Summertime merch collection and could be purchased using points. An anonymous online post by a supposed researcher at the FITI Testing and Research Institute claimed that the bags contained formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Formaldehyde, the National Cancer Institute says, is a colorless chemical with a strong smell that can even be found naturally but is nevertheless flammable and harmful. Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can even cause certain types of rare cancers.

In a statement released by a spokesperson, Starbucks Korea said that no laws had been violated but that the coffee shop chain was "still checking with our supplier concerning the allegation that formaldehyde was detected in our Summer Carry Bag item" (via Korea Times). Starbucks Korea also commissioned a set of tests on the bags, the results for which can be expected in about a week's time.

The FITI Testing & Research Institute also said that the anonymous claim does not reflect the agency, per Korea Times. Regardless of what the results from the independent testing say, Starbucks Korea has already decided to accept the summer bags back from customers. Not only can concerned patrons return the controversial merch, but they will even be given three free drink coupons from Starbucks Korea in exchange for the trouble.