Starbucks says it has more work to do on race—and Chairman Howard Schultz is doing the talking.
While speaking to the Atlantic Council in Washington, Schultz outlined what he sees as necessary changes for Starbucks’ bathroom policy.
“We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision a hundred percent of the time and give people the key,” Schultz said, “because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than.”
He said that Starbucks previously had a “loose policy” that only customers should be allowed to use the bathrooms but that it was up to each store manager’s discretion.
The policy change comes after two black men were arrested at Philadelphia Starbucks; a store manager called police after the men asked to use the restroom without making a purchase.
The two men were taken to a police station, where they were fingerprinted and photographed, their attorney Lauren Wimmer told The Washington Post on Saturday. Her clients, who declined to be identified, were released eight hours later because the district attorney found no evidence of a crime, she said, adding the Starbucks manager was white.
The two men were at the coffee shop to meet Andrew Yaffe, who runs a real estate development firm and wanted to meet to discuss business investment opportunities, Wimmer said.
Multiple witnesses recorded the incident on cellphones. In one video, Yaffe arrives to tell police the two men were waiting for him.
“Why would they be asked to leave?” Yaffe says. “Does anybody else think this is ridiculous?” he asks people nearby. “It’s absolute discrimination.”
Schultz also talked about Starbucks’ failed 2015 campaign “Race Together,” which was intended to promote constructive conversations about racial relations but instead made the company a lightning rod for white supremacists and hate speech.
The Washington Post continued:
Schultz said Starbucks, as a corporation, has a responsibility to address issues of race in the United States, given the national divisions over the killings of African Americans.
“We can all remember with horror and shame what we witnessed as Americans in watching Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and others be murdered,” he said.
Schultz admitted that the subject of race has been trickier to tackle than had been anticipated and that negative interactions caused the company to end the campaign.
The Post finished:
“We know this is the third rail. We know how difficult it is,” Schultz said. “But let’s have the moral courage to try and elevate the conversation.”
He said his board spent 2½ hours discussing how risky — yet necessary — the campaign would be. With Starbucks in nearly every community in the United States, the impact could have been “incredible,” he said. “So we leaned into it.”
The company was unprepared for the backlash. He said within two hours, the initiative had been “hijacked” on social media by hate and by anonymous people who “stole the narrative.”
So he ended the campaign.
Schultz also noted Starbucks’ commitment to its day of diversity training, scheduled for May 29.
“I think it’s fair to say that most people have some level of unconscious bias based on our own life experience,” he said. “So there’s going to be a lot of education about how we all grew up, how we see the world and how we can be better.”
Many approved of Schultz’s candid, straightforward discussion of Starbucks’ PR crises.
Now @AtlanticCouncil: @Starbucks Exec Chairman Howard Schultz addresses his company’s recent public controversies. Raw, honest, intimate and genuine commentary. Not an exaggeration to say you can hear a pin drop with 100+ in the room. pic.twitter.com/bKRShrtRhM
— David Schild (@davidmschild) May 10, 2018
Howard Schultz sounding very much like a future presidential candidate here at the Atlantic Council gala.
— Blake Hounshell (feat. Migos) (@blakehounshell) May 11, 2018
Schultz’s discussion of Starbucks’ values regarding race and equality is important, as many cite the brand name as shorthand for a pattern of arrests getting more attention following the coffee-chain’s crisis.
So, what’s emerged recently (Waffle House, Yale, Starbucks) are more obvious examples of something people of color have been saying for a while, which is that police exist primarily to control and uphold the boundaries of white civil society, property & space more than “safety.”
— wikipedia brown will not yield not one second (@eveewing) May 10, 2018
After a Yale student had the police called on her while she napped in a campus common room, writers and commentators have once again spoken about racial tensions in the U.S., citing Starbucks’ high-profile misstep.
Tariro Mzezewa wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Times that “hanging out in Starbucks” is risky behavior for African-Americans—proving the lasting power of a PR crisis for brands and demonstrating the uphill battle ahead of Starbucks as it tries repair its reputation.
What do you think of Howard Schultz’s remarks and the company’s response overall?