Starbucks' Latest Social Activism

Company CEO Howard Schlutz announced a plan Wednesday that will see Starbucks hiring 10,000 retired veterans, as well as their spouses, over the next five years. As many service members wind up their overseas duties in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than one million former soldiers will have to make the transition to civilian life. The move comes as part of the company's involvement in the Armed Forces Network, through which it provides mentoring. One such person who's made a successful transition back into civilian life is one of the coffee company's directors, Robert Gates, who served as former U.S. Defense Secretary.

"This demographic represents one of the most underutilized talent pools in our country," he said.

Part of the problem is that vets sometimes have a hard time translating skills they've learned in the military back to jobs where, um, being the star sniper in your battalion might not be applicable.

"Being the best mortar man in the best battalion in the world doesn't mean a whole lot when you come out," said Afghan war vet Sean Parnell last year.

Recruitment officers for Starbucks will work to set ex-military members and their spouses up with positions in the company that match their "unique skill sets," including foreign language skills and experience with life abroad as the company continues its global expansion. So (hopefully) it won't just be gingerbread lattes.

"This is, in my view, not charity or philanthropy. But in fact, this is good business,” Schultz said. “These are highly skilled, highly trained people who have significant leadership capabilities, who will add value to Starbucks ... This is not only about hiring baristas."

Veterans also stand to benefit from a new program beginning at two Starbucks stores located on or near military bases: 10 cents from each transaction at stores on the Lewis-McChord base near Lakewood, Wa., as well as a shop in San Antonio, will go to organizations such as Goodwill's Operation Good Jobs and Vested in Vets, programs that help vets re-enter the workforce after military life.

Starbucks is one of a few companies to have a program targeted at hiring veterans: JP Morgan Chase, Wal-Mart, and Boeing number among large corporations that specialize parts of their hiring programs. With the relative percentage of unemployed vets significantly higher than that of the general population, the programs are vital for easing the adjustment back into "normal" life.

“This is absolutely the right thing to do for so many people who have a hard time landing softly and finding their way back to civilian life,” Schultz said. “Businesses and business leaders need to meet them more than halfway.

But even if they're not looking for a job, veterans just looking for a cup of the brewed stuff can get a free tall coffee on Veteran's Day Nov. 11.

As Bustle reported, this is also all part of a larger trend of Starbucks emphasizing campaigns that are good PR:

In its ‘Come Together’ promotion [during the government shutdown], baristas gave a free coffee to customers who bought another customer a drink. The intent of the campaign was to foster “support and connect with one another, even as we wait for our elected officials to do the same for our country,” Schultz said in a memo to staff on Tuesday. After the Navy Yard shooting, Schultz asked pro-gun organizations to stop having ‘Starbucks Appreciation Days’ in his stores, and politely requested that customers cease bringing firearms into his shops.
Schultz says he has no desire to make Starbucks into a “national hub to take on cultural issues,” but adds that he has a responsibility to the community. By treading bipartisan waters (well, except for the whole gun thing, which pissed off a lot of NRA folks), the company can appear socially-conscious and connected to the community. Think of it as tapping into collective frustrations and giving customers a place to vent(i). Even if the petitions don’t do much (“Here is a list of all the people who are — newsflash — angry at you, good Congressmen”), Starbucks still gets an image boost — and lots of press. Damn-it, they got us again.