Over the next five years, Starbucks will aim to hire 10,000 veterans and active-duty spouses through the development of a new comprehensive hiring platform. But do they have civic responsibility in mind, or are they just trying to make themselves look good?
The world’s largest coffeehouse chain also committed to opening five “Community Stores” with the purpose of funding local non-profit programs that support veterans re-entering the workforce. CEO Howard Schultz insisted that the program was “not just about hiring baristas,” but that positions would be available in areas such as supply chain management. Similar plans have been put forward recently by UPS, JP Morgan, and Walmart, who committed to hiring at least 100,000 veterans.
Last year, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates joined the Starbucks Board of Directors. His role undoubtedly influenced the new veteran-hiring program. Gates stated that veterans "[represent] one of the most underutilized talent pools in our country". Indeed, the unemployment rate for post 9/11 veterans is over 10%, with many veterans finding difficulty translating their military skills into civilian employment.
There is absolutely no doubt that this move by Starbucks will have a positive impact on veterans and their families. Yet Wednesday’s announcement happens to be the latest in a string of PR moves intended to intentionally craft a particular image of Starbucks. Earlier this year, Starbucks hopped on the gay-marriage-support bandwagon full force. After the Navy Yard shooting in September, CEO Howard Schultz asked that customers no longer bring guns into Starbucks stores. Then, during the government shutdown in October, the company started a “Come Together” campaign that included a petition to end the shutdown and a policy of free coffee for those who bought coffee for someone else.
Since most people that love coffee and cafes understand Starbucks to be the corporate behemoth that it is (over 20,000 stores!), this sort of campaign is probably a great strategic move for the company’s image. By “taking on” issues that already have heavy popular support, Starbucks gets to be advertised as a socially-conscious and community-oriented café without ever really risking anything.
Perfect. But with the announcement about the new hiring program coming Wednesday, just days before Veterans' Day, one has to wonder if this could really just be the PR issue that Starbucks has slated for November. One can only hope that, despite its undoubtedly positive effect, the move by Starbucks to hire more veterans comes from an actual desire to help this population, and isn't just another chapter in its publicity campaign.