Luke Visconti, CEO: Starbucks CEO Needs to Start Discussion About Race With His Leadership Team, Not Minimum-Wage Employees and Customers

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz got into the news this week by encouraging his baristas to spark conversations on race with customers by writing the words “Race Together” on customers’ coffee cups. He did this in partnership with USA Today, which published an eight-page “supplement and conversation guide.”

Both companies should start a discussion about race and gender in their own boardrooms. Here’s a link to Starbucks’ executive page—it’s astoundingly white and male: 84 percent male, 79 percent white. Two Black people, two Asians. Apparently, no Latinos. (Who is growing your coffee, Starbucks) Here’s a link to USA Today’s executive page—it’s ALL white men.

The area on USA Today’s website about this venture even includes Schultz being interviewed by a white reporter—the irony of two white men discussing race and of Schultz talking about corporate responsibility is apparently lost on both. Leadership at both companies is so astoundingly tone deaf that they couldn’t even see how ridiculous this all looks.

In my opinion, it’s a cheap publicity stunt. Schultz is a multibillionaire, yet I can find no links to where he’s been involved in a constructive way in the discussion of race until now. And by constructive, I mean putting your money where your mouth is. Here’s his (pathetic) community involvement info. I’ve been a trustee of a Historically Black College for 10 years, I’m a member of HACU‘s Corporate and Philanthropy Council, I’m on the board of the National Organization on Disability, and I’m chair of the board of a Hispanic Serving Institution’s foundation. I’ve been involved with Rainbow PUSH. In over 15 years of intense community service, I’ve never seen a Starbucks sponsorship or scholarship. Starbucks has been conspicuously stingy—which is fine if you want to live that way, but please don’t leverage your economic clout to talk about things with authority that you have no involvement with outside of your imagination.

While Schultz is discussing corporate responsibility, he should address his company’s impact on impoverished coffee growers worldwide: His coffee is not fair trade.

Like many companies that want to leverage diversity monetarily, there’s nothing of substance on the Starbucks website regarding diversity, philanthropy or fair-trade coffee. There’s a lot of lofty language, a lot of positioning, very little facts and figures—no discussion of money in a relative sense to market impact, revenue or wealth.

The good news is that the negative backlash has already whipped into hurricane proportions. Corey duBrowa (a white man), Starbucks’ Senior Vice President of Global Communications, deleted his Twitter account after an avalanche of negative tweets. But Starbucks isn’t backing off; this discussion is heading into the company’s shareholders meeting, where I hope the board of directors asks the hard questions presented in this column.

Schultz said, “We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America. Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”

I think he should point fingers—at himself. Until his executive team looks substantially more like the minimum-wage workers we taxpayers have to subsidize, the discussion of race should be internal and intense. How did his executive team wind up looking like it does When is it going to change Who is going to be held accountable Do we have the chops to talk about race when we have done nothing about it Should we be selling coffee on the back of this subject

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