Nice Try, Starbucks

starbucksThis month Starbucks launched and then abandoned its #RaceTogether campaign. It was an effort by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to spark a national conversation about race. But it didn’t go over well with many people who felt that asking baristas to discuss race with customers didn’t make sense—and that any conversation that heavy was not going to happen before they’d had their morning coffee.

The staff of the Center for Social Inclusion applauded Starbuck’s leadership for trying to initiate a dialogue. But they point out that the coffee chain needed to do some soul-searching first.

If Starbucks really wants to make strides, it could examine its own policies and practices as a start. This could include internal hiring, corporate diversity, and retention of workers. Right now, 40% of the Starbucks workforce is people of color. What percentage of people of color is baristas?  What percentage is management? If there is a disparity, examine why and change policy and practice.

In most places, Starbucks pays a minimum wage of $8-11 an hour. Wage inequality is a huge factor in supporting racial inequity. Starbucks has supported minimum wage increases, but they could always do more by building on campaigns— like the recent win in Seattle to raise the minimum wage to $15—and  by becoming a strong corporate partner, leading the charge and bringing other industries to the table to raise wages.

Starbucks could have a significant impact on issues of racial inequality if it were willing to look at its internal and external practices. Real progress is going to take more than a hashtag.

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