Earlier today I watched an interview with Howard Schultz, the Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, on The Daily Show, amidst a haze of cognitive dissonance.
The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart is very much a left wing liberal in US terms but instead of ripping into Schultz for dodgy tax accounting he seemed to be on the verge of hero worship. It turns out that Starbucks operates on a much higher level of social responsibility in its homeland.
The reason for the recent interview was a recnt announcement that Starbucks in the US are going to fund a college education for all of its employees – or all of them that want it anyway. This is on top of already providing healthcare for its staff.
All of that is very laudable and quite amazing in the context of normal US employment practices, especially in the fast food/retail area and you can see why Jon Stewart would look up to that.
I was still a tiny bit surprised that there was no mention of the controversies with Starbucks outside the US because although most US media types and audiences either don’t know or care much about what happens overseas, Stewart does appear to take quite an interest in foreign affairs of all sorts.
From our UK perspective the huge irony is that while Starbucks in the US is taking money off its bottom line to provide healthcare where there is a need because there is no comprehensive public healthcare provision, over here in the UK they don’t need to do that because we have the NHS – but Starbucks manage to avoid paying the taxes to support that.
The biggest irony was in a comment that Schultz made to justify the corporate altruism in the US. He said something to the effect that it is not entirely altruistic because he still has to offer value to shareholders, and that such behaviour is good for that in the long term because consumers are very aware now. He cited the word-of-mouth of social media, saying that consumers are now very aware of the ethics of a company and can if they see a company acting unethically they can easily choose to not use that company.
At which point, if I had been in mid-sip of a cup of Starbucks I would have ended up spraying the room with it.
I do hope that somebody manages to isolate the actual quote I paraphrased and use the video clip of it in one of the many UK social media campaigns against tax avoiding companies.