It was November 1999 in Seattle and the U.S. global

justice movement had taken to the streets. Suddenly,

there was a crash not 20 feet from where I stood, and the Starbucks

window collapsed

in a hail of glass. “Zowie,” I said to my husband Alec, “I

sure hate the WTO and capitalism, but that’s our coffee store.”


been pondering the contradictions ever since, watching

my progressive colleagues devour the latest episode of Friends, gleefully

shop for real estate, and sip their lattes. Political

ideology notwithstanding, we were avid participants

in popular culture

and petty capital. How could

we so glibly demonize that which we so cheerfully consumed?

<p>And as I went around the country, I couldn’t help notice that

both the employees and habitués of Starbucks seemed far more diverse

by race and class than the American anti-globalization

movement. I wanted to know, was big, by definition,

 bad? Was Starbucks’ touted

commitment to “values” just a cynical ploy to complement </p>

 <p>Few people argued that

 coffee was inherently evil like bombs or SUVs. Rather,

Starbucks stood accused of:

 buying coffee at prices that couldn’t sustain the farmers; purchasing

 from farms that degraded the environment; causing neighborhoods

 to gentrify and small cafes to

wither; and representing the mega-branding that’s killing small

 businesses and homogenizing the </p>

<p>I frankly like

 having Starbucks at the airport, and at strip malls

 in strange cities. I wouldn’t mind independently-owned

coffee shops instead, but Starbucks is usually what’s there. Moreover,

progressives have tended to romanticize small businesses;

 yet many sweatshops in this country have been small,

family-owned enterprises, and that didn’t

 benefit those who worked there. As a rule, racial minorities

have fared better in larger institutions. Was Starbucks

 doing right by race? What </p>

<p>What, specifically, is wrong

 with this emblematic corporation? And is anything right?

It seems to me that the movement

is old enough to make some </p>


View from Headquarters</strong></p>

 <p>The mermaid from the Starbucks

 logo peers coyly from the top of the refurbished Sears

warehouse in Seattle that serves as company headquarters. Although one


 official claims this is cultishness

 gone amok, I can’t help seeing it as a humorous and engaging design


<p>The people I meet are also humorous and engaging.

They include Paula Boggs, executive vice president,

 general counsel and secretary; Wanda Herndon, senior VP, Worldwide

Public Affairs; David Pace, executive

 VP, Partner Resources; and Sandra Taylor, senior VP,

Corporate Social Responsibility. While they are polished

spokespeople for the Starbucks

mission and policies, they don’t really strike me as cult material.

 What does strike me is that three of the four are African

 American women. Women comprise barely 13 percent of Fortune 500 general

 counsel and women

 of color merely 1.6 percent of all corporate officer

positions. At Starbucks, more than 34 percent of the top officers (vice

 president or higher) are

women and/or people of color. And although Starbucks

is cagey about its statistics, they’re clearly far ahead of the

 miserable norm. “Certainly,

 at the top of this company, diversity in the form of

race rings loud,” says

Boggs, the general counsel. “I would think, fairly, we have some

work to do when it comes to middle management, but

we’re on the

right path. ”</p>

 <p>“You will see diversity by age, sex, race, sexual orientation,

 family status throughout the organization,” David Pace asserts. “It

 holds an equal place in our guiding principles, just

like respect and dignity, just like customer satisfaction.”</p>


principles are spelled out in the company’s six-point mission

 statement, which is central to the way the company

defines itself and acculturates its employees. Yet Pace is aware that, “Our

 guiding statement is probably not that different from people who are


in scandals. The difference is the commitment to it.”</p>

 <p><strong>Making Good on Eighth Street</strong></p>

<p>Tawana Green, a lively

 28-year-old African American, Washington, DC native

 with unruly dreads, believes

in the Starbucks mission. She started with the company

the same year as the Seattle protests and

 now, four years later, is the manager of the new Starbucks

on SE Eighth Street, two blocks from my home on Capitol </p>

<p>It’s the opportunity Green was looking for. “I’ve

been on my own since I was 17,” she relates, “and started

 work right out of high school. I did the office thing,

but found myself sleeping at the computer. So I went into

 retail where I could work with people.”</p>

 <p>She was impressed by the

 full benefits for anyone working 20 hours or more,

almost unheard of in the world of

 retail. In addition to a generous health, life, and

 disability insurance package, the company

 offers: a 401K with a match; Starbucks “bean stock,” which

reflects the annual success of the company and is allocated

 among employees based on hours worked; discounts on

 Starbucks public stock; and to top

it off, a free pound of coffee every </p>

 <p>She’s hired a total

of 15 workers, and all but one survived the first month.

Visiting on different shifts, it’s clear that she’s assembled

 mostly people of color from the community; they start at $7.50 an hour

plus tips, and most of them work enough hours to qualify for the health benefits. Although some Starbucks workers claim they have a difficult time getting those hours, the company says that more than two-thirds of all employees qualify.</p>

<p>As I listen to Green

 and take in the familiar décor, the comfortable chairs and small merchandise displays, I find myself thinking about what journalist/activist Naomi Klein describes as the branding phenomenon, where what’s on sale is not just a product but an image and a lifestyle: not just coffee, but “The Starbucks Experience.” Klein hates the clone-like nature of the stores and what she sees as the cynical manipulation of the consumer. And I honestly know what she means. Starbucks is putting in a bid to be a Pleasantville version of the village square.</p>

<p>Then I look at Green, her co-workers, and the customers,

 and it doesn’t

 look like such a terrible thing. “My goal is to provide a great place to

 hang out and also give back to the community,” Tawana Green tells me. “I’m

 not saying it’s easy. But here I am, 28, with a high school education,

 and I’m a store manager with a piece of the company. Where else could I

 get this opportunity? It doesn’t get much better than this!”</p>

<p><strong>Uniform Misery</strong></p>

<p>However, for Sandra Evans, an employee

 at Cintas—the mega-company producing

 uniforms, laundry, and cleaning supply products with which Starbucks contracts—it

 doesn’t get much worse. Evans, a 57-year-old African American, works

 40 hours a week sorting shirts at the Cintas plant in Aspen, Pennsylvania.

 She also

 works 20 hours at the local K-Mart. “I’ve got two jobs, and I’m

 still struggling,” she wryly notes. “This company is making millions,

 and people can’t even pay their electric bills.” She loves to

 walk, entertain, and cook, but “I’m just too busy working.” And

 while she drinks a cup of coffee a day, she’s never had a Starbucks, “although

 I hear they’re excellent.”</p>

 <p>Driven by grievances of unpaid and

 forced overtime, discrimination and unsafe working conditions, she and

her fellow workers are engaged in a campaign

 to join UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.



 also among a group of workers who recently filed an EEOC class action complaint

 against Cintas for gender and race discrimination. “When I got hired

 two years ago, they told me $8.50 was the starting rate. Then they hired

 an 18-year-old

 white girl, right out of high school, and started her at $9.50. Recently

 a Hispanic woman started, and they’re paying her $8.25.” Evans

 reports there’s

 only one black supervisor at her plant; at another plant, they do not hire

 any blacks as drivers, even if they are well-qualified, and some plants are


 by gender as well.</p>

 <p>“It’s a sad situation,” Evans sighs. “I just

 hope they can be a fair company, hire people at the same rate, and a

decent rate, and give people

 of color a chance to move up. It’s not just about me, and it’s

 not just about money. It’s about finally treating people with


 <p><strong>Voice vs. Vote</strong></p>

<p>“I’ve met Howard twice,” Tawana Green tells me, easily

 referring to Starbucks board chair Howard Schultz. At a company leadership

 conference, “he

 told us, ‘we take care of the partners, the partners take care

 of the customers, and the customers take care of the business.’”</p>


 avoids the word “employees” in favor of the company

 lexicon, “partners,” and

 quickly corrects herself the one time the e-word slips in. However,

 a number of Starbucks workers in Canada and the U.S. have begged

 to differ on the

 partner/employee question.</p>

<p>Jef Keighley, a national representative

 for the Canadian Automobile Workers, is bitter when he describes

 his experiences organizing Starbucks

 in British

 Columbia, where the union is in a drawn-out contract negotiation

 covering 10 Vancouver

 stores. “We used to have 12 stores,” he says, “but

 the company has had a hand in organizing decertifications at two

 of those stores, even selecting

 and paying for the lawyer. We’ve been at the Labor Board

 for a year and a half.”</p>

 <p>Keighley admires Starbucks’ tactical

 and PR sophistication, but dismisses any sincerity around the mission

 statement as “an absolute crock.” He’s

 particularly exercised about the bean stock benefit. “Most

 would be better off with the money in their paychecks,” he

 asserts. “Our committee

 knows they’re only getting the sizzle while Starbucks keeps

 the steak.”</p>

<p>In his own book, Howard Schultz—a Brooklyn

 boy made good—clearly

 expresses a belief that benevolent management should make unions

 superfluous. It’s almost as though the desire to have outside

 representation is seen as a personal affront that hurts Schultz’s

 feelings more than his profit margins.</p>

 <p>UNITE says it has yet to

 hear from Starbucks about Cintas. But

 Starbucks General Counsel Paula Boggs insists that, “We take

 any allegation regarding our suppliers very seriously. We have

 instituted a supplier code of conduct, and

 we do look for partners that share our values. Is it perfect, always?

 No. But it’s certainly worked in the main for us.”</p>

 <p><strong>Bringing It All Back Home</strong></p>

 <p>So, what about the most common </p>

<p>A crucial concern on the

 global level has been the survival of coffee farmers

and the environmental sustainability of production.


 is second only

 to petroleum on the world commodities market, and the price is

 at catastrophic lows of 40 to 50 cents per pound, threatening roughly

 250 million small

 farmers. There

 seems little question that pressure from human rights and environmental

 groups in the mid-’90s spurred Starbucks’ commitments

 in Third World coffee-growing countries. They instituted coffee-sourcing

 guidelines, and have negotiated long-term

 contracts and created direct relationships with suppliers to stabilize

 the income of the farmers. In 2002, they paid an average of $1.20

 per pound up to a high

 of about $1.41. Steve Coats of the US/Labor and Education in the

 Americas Project (US/LEAP) suggests that, “They don’t

 move any faster than you push them. They may purchase only 1 percent

 of the coffee, but they can set the standards

 and tone.” However, both US/LEAP and Global Exchange acknowledge

 that Starbucks has made significant changes in its policies and


<p>There is also a pervasive belief that Starbucks is driving

 out the independents, but evidence is slim. As I recall, in the



 of 15 years ago,

 most coffeehouses were near universities and in Italian neighborhoods.

 Cheap coffee

 was found at the local diner, and good coffee was an oxymoron.

 Are we really saying that there should be no coffeehouses in urban


 of color?

 Are we arguing against a decent latte at the airport? It may be

 an unnecessary


 But a sign of evil conspiracy? I’m not convinced.</p>

<p>Nor is Starbucks

 equivalent to Wal-Mart; it has not forced a downward spiral in

 either prices or wages, it is arguably the best employer

 in its sector,

 and it has not turned old main streets into ghost towns. However,

 Starbucks has joined

 McDonalds and Wal-Mart in hyper-aggressive expansion, especially

 abroad, thus setting itself up as a symbol of the Americanization

 of the world.</p>

<p>At the community level, though, it’s often hard

 for people to understand why the store where they shop and work

 has been targeted. “I remember being

 in a demonstration where a McDonalds or Starbucks window, I forget

 which, was shattered,” says Colin Rajah, a long-time global

 justice organizer, currently a program associate at the National

 Network of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “We

 could see the staff, people of color, running toward the back of

 the store and cowering behind the counter, really scared. I was

 in a group of young


 justice activists of color, and we immediately found ourselves

 identifying with the people inside the store. And we realized that

 tactic was

 a mistake. </p>

 <p>“Sure we have to look at the larger picture and how the capitalist

 system works, but if these entities provide a service to the

 community, and are not abusing

 their workers, there’s something to be said for that as well.

 What we should be looking for is the democratization of the process.”</p>


 couldn’t really get an answer at Starbucks headquarters on

 how big was too big. “I guess too big is all relative,” says

 Starbucks VP Wanda Herndon, “but big is not necessarily bad

 if you’re doing good things.” Mostly,

 she feels misunderstood by the protesters, who have continued to

 sporadically damage stores around the country. “The way I

 felt was that the people who were protesting didn’t understand

 who Starbucks really is, the company, the culture, the people,” she

 explains. “But because

 our siren makes good news, we became a symbol of all that went

 wrong with WTO.</p>

<p>“We’ve always tried to balance profitability with benevolence,

 and I think that’s a concept that’s hard for people

 to grasp. You want to be profitable, but you realize you need to

 give back if

 you want to be a

 part of

 the communities in which you do business.”</p>

 <p>As it turns out,

 Starbucks appears improved on trade, good on race, and a model

 on health care for part-timers. Amazingly, they have

 only recently


 their first government relations staffer, and it remains to be

 seen whether they will

 parlay their position into fighting nationally for civil rights,

 the environment, or national health care.</p>

 <p>“People who go into corporate management didn’t sign up

to be civil servants,” notes

 global justice organizer Liz Butler. “But increasingly, the

 crucial decisions are being made in board rooms, and we need them

 to take on that


 <p>And, at Starbucks, there’s some hope of getting

 through; after all, some of the top management were the anti-war

 activists of the ’70s. Meanwhile,

 I’m certain that Tawana Green would care about the fate of

 Sandra Evans, though I wonder whether the company VP’s will

 feel the same. I’m

 not holding my breath that they’ll ever prefer union representation

 to benevolence. But I’d like to think that they will not

 be down with the race and gender discrimination of a Cintas.</p>


 Liz Butler puts it, “McDonald’s never says it’s

 a good neighbor, but Starbucks does. It’s our job to hold

 them to it.” Perhaps then

 Starbucks won’t be doing business with Sandra Evans’ oppressor,

 and activists won’t be throwing bricks through Tawana Green’s