The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Daniel Baylis Headshot

Will Starbucks Save America?

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

America needs jobs. At least that's what the current unemployment statistics tell us. As of April 2012, the American unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, and it's currently on the highest arc of the past 50 years. Times are tough in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Enter Starbucks. The coffee giant is known worldwide as the leader of lattes, the king of caffeine. They are the most popular coffee retail chain in the world, and customers don't seem to be growing tired of the patented 'Starbucks experience' any time soon. But the coffee company has decided to contribute something new on their menu board. Not only are they offering up their classic Orange Mocha Frappuccinos, now they are pushing -- wait for it -- jobs.

In the American market, Starbucks is currently positioning itself as a leader in the fight against unemployment. They have launched a massive project called the 'Indivisible' campaign where they are raising money through coffee and wristband sales to provide grants for small businesses in underserved American communities. The idea is to insert money at a grassroots level, to let the people rebuild.

And Starbucks is apparently quite serious about its new endeavor, using significant corporate advertising dollars to support their cause. The company has ran full-page ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, stating in capital letters: THIS COUNTRY NEEDS JOBS. It's a bold positioning statement for any business.

At the helm of this employment movement is business tycoon and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a man that Fortune Magazine named 'Business Leader of the Year' for 2011. Schultz, whose net worth is approximately $1.5 billion USD, is making it his personal mission to use Starbuck's mammoth scale for doing good. Earlier this month he issued an open letter to America on the Starbucks website. It was a call to action in a time of uncertainty, and a year where an electoral decision will undoubtedly shape the course of the near future:

"America needs to win the election more than either party does. It is time now to join together as Americans. It is time, whatever our differences, for us to strive and succeed as one nation -- indivisible."

I applaud the Starbucks Indivisible campaign for its intention to address a social issue. They are exploring the future of business, one where all successful companies will have a social or environmental cause at the core of their brand architecture. This is a step in the right direction. But the most important thing is to keep moving in that direction. A single step is not enough.

Starbucks has work to do. According to the Create Jobs for USA website, to date the movement has created 3,800 jobs. That's enough to keep a small American city afloat in a time of economic woes -- not something to scoff at. Earlier this year, The Seattle Times reported that Starbucks currently employed 149,000 people, yet the height of its employment figure was 176,000 in 2008. I'm not a math wizard, but it seems that we might still be short a couple of jobs. Which makes me wonder if this is a real solution? Or is it simply a slick marketing strategy to grab public adoration while encouraging consumer slactivism?

Big business has immense power in the ability to address the greatest social disparities of our time. What if, for the next fifty years, the battle against unemployment was the one issue that Starbucks steadfastly stood for? What if all of us coffee addicts knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that with each latte purchased, we weren't just lining the pockets of a business tycoon, but were also helping to heal a nation? That would be the biggest brand victory for any multinational corporation.

Until then, the question remains: will Starbucks save America?