Starbucks chairman: ‘We were absolutely wrong in every way’

Starbucks says it has more work to do on race—and Chairman Howard Schultz
is doing the talking.

While speaking to the Atlantic Council in Washington, Schultz outlined what
he sees as necessary changes for Starbucks’ bathroom policy.

The Washington Post

“We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the
right decision a hundred percent of the time and give people the key,”
Schultz said, “because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we
are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than.”

He said that Starbucks previously had a “loose policy” that only customers
should be allowed to use the bathrooms but that it was up to each store
manager’s discretion.

The policy change comes after two black men were arrested at Philadelphia
Starbucks; a store manager called police after the men asked to use the
restroom without making a purchase.

As previously reported on PR Daily

The Washington Post

The two men were taken to a police station, where they were fingerprinted
and photographed, their attorney Lauren Wimmer told The Washington Post on
Saturday. Her clients, who declined to be identified, were released eight
hours later because the district attorney found no evidence of a crime, she
said, adding the Starbucks manager was white.

The two men were at the coffee shop to meet Andrew Yaffe, who runs a real
estate development firm and wanted to meet to discuss business investment
opportunities, Wimmer said.

Multiple witnesses recorded the incident on cellphones. In one video, Yaffe
arrives to tell police the two men were waiting for him.

“Why would they be asked to leave?” Yaffe says. “Does anybody else think
this is ridiculous?” he asks people nearby. “It’s absolute discrimination.”

Schultz also talked about Starbucks’ failed 2015 campaign “Race Together,”
which was intended to promote constructive conversations about racial
relations but instead made the company a lightning rod for white
supremacists and hate speech.

The Washington Post

Schultz said Starbucks, as a corporation, has a responsibility to address
issues of race in the United States, given the national divisions over the
killings of African Americans.

“We can all remember with horror and shame what we witnessed as Americans
in watching Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and others be murdered,” he

Schultz admitted that the subject of race has been trickier to tackle than
had been anticipated and that negative interactions caused the company to
end the campaign.

The Post finished:

“We know this is the third rail. We know how difficult it is,” Schultz
said. “But let’s have the moral courage to try and elevate the

He said his board spent 2½ hours discussing how risky — yet necessary — the
campaign would be. With Starbucks in nearly every community in the United
States, the impact could have been “incredible,” he said. “So we leaned
into it.”

The company was unprepared for the backlash. He said within two hours, the
initiative had been “hijacked” on social media by hate and by anonymous
people who “stole the narrative.”

So he ended the campaign.

Schultz also noted Starbucks’
commitment to its day of diversity training, scheduled for May 29.

Time wrote:

“I think it’s fair to say that most people have some level of unconscious
bias based on our own life experience,” he said. “So there’s going to be a
lot of education about how we all grew up, how we see the world and how we
can be better.”

Many approved of Schultz’s candid, straightforward discussion of Starbucks’
PR crises.

[RELATED: Join us in Washington, D.C. for the Leadership and Executive Communicators Conference.]

Schultz’s discussion of Starbucks’ values regarding race and equality is important, as many cite the brand name as shorthand for a pattern of arrests getting more attention following the coffee-chain’s crisis.

After a Yale student had the police called on her while she napped in a
campus common room, writers and commentators have once again spoken about
racial tensions in the U.S., citing Starbucks’ high-profile misstep.

Tariro Mzezewa wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Times
 that “hanging out in Starbucks” is risky behavior for
African-Americans—proving the lasting power of a PR crisis for brands and
demonstrating the uphill battle ahead of Starbucks as it tries repair its

PR Daily
readers, what do you think of Howard Schultz’s remarks and the company’s
response overall?


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