Will Starbucks Baristas Help to Improve Race Relations in the U.S.?

Campaign Adds Important Conversation to Your Morning Cup of Joe

Published On
Mar 17, 2015

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Starbucks is hoping to open up the dialog on race relations with its "Race Together" initiative, which will rely largely on conversations between baristas and patrons about the heated topic.

The Seattle-headquartered coffee chain recently took out two print ads, one in the New York Times and another in USA Today. Headlined "Race Together," one asks the question "Shall we overcome?" while another shows choice checkboxes on the Starbucks coffee cup, replaced with the copy "When It Comes to Race We Are All Human." The campaign also includes a special insert in USA Today that will be distributed at Starbucks outlets on Friday.

The ads tee up an effort that has already begun at Starbucks locations in L.A., New York, St. Louis and Oakland, Calif., in which baristas have been writing "Race Together" on customer's cups, in the hopes of starting conversation. Now, all outlets have been asked to do the same.

Last week, Chairman/CEO Howard Schultz released this video to Starbucks partners. In it, he asks, "What can we do to create more empathy, more compassion, more understanding, not only within our own company, but how can we do it so that we elevate that sense of humanity inside our stores with our customers, and ask our own people, you, our Starbucks partners, to facilitate a conversation and perhaps we can do something that could be catalytic for the country." He encourages, but does not require, baristas to write the campaign message on cups.

For months, Starbucks has already been making moves on the corporate side to address race issues. Back in December, during an impromptu open forum with Starbucks partners, Mr. Schultz addressed growing racial tension in the country, evident in race-related incidents in Ferguson, New York City and Oakland. "Despite the raw emotion around the events and their underlying racial issues, we at Starbucks should be willing to talk about them internally.Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are," he said.

The campaign has already sparked criticism from media and the general public The effort, however, is just the latest example of Starbucks' bold embrace of political causes, which in the past have included gay marriage and the 2013 U.S. budget stalemate.

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