If Howard Schultz and Starbucks’ management team didn’t already know, they certainly do now — no good deed, or attempt at one, goes unpunished. The company has been widely criticized this week for a campaign it has launched to get Americans speaking about the controversial topic of race in the U.S.
Earlier this week, baristas at the chain’s stores began writing “Race Together” on cups. The company also placed full-page ads in The New York Times and USA Today and announced it would partner with USA Today to publish supplements on the topic.
The point of the campaign is to start conversations that will create empathy, hopefully leading to action being taken and, ultimately, change. The idea grew out of internal meetings with associates following a series of troubling events last year involving racial minorities around the country. According to Fortune, nearly 200,000 Starbucks employees roughly — 40 percent of its total — belong to a racial minority.
Response to the campaign has been both swift and critical in the media and via social channels. Some have pointed out that Starbucks’ own policies (low wage rates) lead to some of the racial inequality its CEO says he is trying to address. Many questioned the (profit) motives of the chain in starting the campaign while others said it was naive to think any real discussions could take place in busy coffee shops.
Despite the criticism from the media, many of the BrainTrust of industry insiders at RetailWire applauded the campaign in an online discussion Thursday.
“Bravo Howard Schultz,” said Professor Gene Detroyer. “Unfortunately the push-back says something about America and it isn’t very pretty. But if the idea was to start a conversation and highlight what is under the covers, he did it, and the push-back has made it much more successful.”
“This is a gutsy move by Starbucks,” said Mohamed Amer, vice president of Global Consumer Industries at SAP. “One can surely find something wrong with any one element or even the entire idea. Yet how do we break through and make progress on any deeply ingrained issue? It’s not by ignoring it or by relying on a governmental solution. It’s through dialogue and engagement — reasoned and civil — quite the antidote to what we see on the evening news every day.”
Others saw the potential impact of #RaceTogether as being more negligible.
“Starbucks is great at talking the talk but its efforts to walk the talk are often characterized by baby steps or steps backward,” said Ryan Mathews of Black Monk Consulting. “It’s one thing to jot clever clichés on a disposable cup and quite another to attack the real root causes of racial unrest in America.”
And there were some who saw the backlash against #RaceTogether as a sign that Schultz had broken a cardinal retail rule with the campaign.
“This just underscores the old rule about keeping politics and religion out of the business discussion,” said Raymond D. Jones, managing director at Dechert-Hampe and Co. “It seems that Starbucks touched a nerve that people would rather avoid, at least while they enjoy their latte.”
This article was written by George Anderson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.