Clara Barros/Staff Writer
On May 29, Starbucks closed 8,000 of its facilities to conduct a training against racial bias. The four-hour training was a response to the arbitrary arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia location, charged with trespassing simply because they sat without ordering anything.
The racist incident immediately reflected on Starbucks’ popularity, which hit a 10-year-low, according to a survey from YouGov’s BrandIndex.
Low popularity cuts profits.
The company didn’t spare efforts to work up its corporate image — and many well-intentioned people are not understanding that the “anti-bias training” is nothing more than a part of that marketing move.
Austin Locke, a sociology senior who has been working at Starbucks for over a year, underwent the training and provided backstage details.
The session, he reported, consisted of a weird mix of a psychology lesson about the roots of bias in the brain, a brief review of the Civil Rights movement, and vague open-ended questions — such as “What makes me, me? And you, you?” — intended to spark a reflection about “diversity.”
“They had the CEO talking in the video,” Locke said. “And he was saying: ‘some people say the profit motive and social responsibility can’t go hand in hand, but we think [they] can’.”
Of course Kevin Johnson, the CEO of a multi-billion dollar transnational corporation, would think so.
What Johnson will never tell you, and what the choreographed racial bias training will always leave out, is the real source of Starbucks’ profit: exploited coffee bean pickers in dominated regions of the world.
In Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, dozens of millions of coffee farmers struggle to survive in extreme poverty. Some years ago, Oxfam shed a light on their buyer — Starbucks.
A basic Google search will show that a pound of Starbucks coffee costs today, on average, $13 to $15. Ethiopian coffee farmers, reported Oxfam, were being paid between $0.50 and $0.98 for their crops, adjusted for today’s inflation.
More recently, traveler Kelsey Timmerman exposed a similar situation in Colombia after Starbucks refused to tell him where their coffee was produced there. Timmerman decided to go see it for himself.
Upon arriving at the region of Nariño, where he eventually discovered the coffee plantations were located, he was surprised to find out impoverished workers who had never heard of Starbucks.
As he walked through the village, Timmerman saw the Starbucks’ logo displayed on several plaques. Most workers had no idea what it meant, and those who did, said “We were promised Starbucks was going to help us years ago. We’re still waiting.”
But there’s no doubt they would be excited to hear Starbucks’ thoughts about racial sensitivity.
“It goes back to making everything look like you’re consuming ethically,” Locke said. “They’re making everybody think, ‘oh, we treat everybody equally and nicely’, yet they force people in Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa to pick beans for a couple dollars a day.”
I asked if he believed the training would have any concrete impact at all.
“It’s important to not have customer service people be racist,” Locke said. “But at the same time (…) the corporation is founded and predicated upon stealing resources from people in other regions.”
This is the naked reality.
And this why Austin and I respond to the CEO: no, dear, the profit motive and social responsibility cannot go hand in hand.
They’re the exact opposite of each other.
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Photo taken from Flickr.