Beginning this week, Starbucks baristas around the country are being encouraged to chat about race with their customers, as part of the company's "Race Together" campaign, a message to be written on each coffee cup.
The initiative was borne of a series of open forums at select Starbucks stores since last December, in which employees of different backgrounds shared their stories about race. CEO Howard Schultz, in a company video, called the experience, "emotional, heart-breaking...The trust partners have had to share their stories [and] be vulnerable was incredible."
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Schultz was inspired to take the campaign public, in an effort "to create more empathy, more compassion, more understanding...perhaps we can do something that can be catalytic for the country."
But since news of the initiative broke, the response among potential Starbucks customers on social media has not been kind, with some accusing the company of capitalizing on racial tension in America, pointing out the branding missteps, and calling for more meaningful action on the corporation's part, like diversifying its own ranks or releasing employee data. The backlash may have reportedly driven a company spokesman to delete his Twitter account.
Schultz had previously said employees who were uncomfortable about the project were free to "bow out," and if any patrons complained, they can be given another cup.