Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is again using his company as a platform for social issues, this time trying to encourage conversations on race by having baristas write the words "race together" on its cups.
The chain also took out a full-page ad in Sunday's New York Times with the phrase "Shall We Overcome?" On March 20, a supplement called "Race Together," written by Starbucks with USA Today, will run in print editions of USA Today and appear in Starbucks stores.
According to Fortune:
The initiative follows several months of consultations with employees that started in December, in part as a result of protests that roiled several U.S. cities after grand juries declined to indict white police officers in the killings of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., near St. Louis, and 43-year-old Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.
The initiative has already seen some criticism. Salon called the effort "cringe-inducing" and noted the effort, which has the hashtag #RaceTogether, being mocked on Twitter.
Mr. Shultz has used his money and company to bolster social and political causes before, although it's always tough to gauge the impact. He supported gay marriage, leading the company to back gay marriage in Washington state in 2012 and calling out an investor that criticized him for it. In October 2013, his petition campaign "Come together" urged the White House and Congress to reopen and pass a bipartisan budget by the end of the year; Congress, of course, did eventually pass a budget.
Mr. Schultz has also supported raising the minimum wage, but couched the support by saying that while a higher minimum wage wouldn't affect a company as big as Starbucks much, it would be hard on small businesses.
Here's a video with Mr. Schultz talking about "Race Together":
UPDATE: Asked about the backlash, Starbucks provided this statement:
We knew this wouldn't be easy, but we feel it is worth the discomfort. One of our key takeaways from the partner open forums we held on race earlier this year was an understanding of the different perspectives and how people come to the table to talk about this emotional topic. What we also clearly heard from partners at these forums was that they wanted Starbucks to move beyond discussion and take action. What you're seeing in our stores this week is the first part of that action, and of course, we are always listening to our partners' and customers' points of view.