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Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, April 13, 2004 11:12 AM
Trusting 'Bucks
David Weinberger on Ethics

Kevin points to Starbucks' report on how corporately responsible it is. And, while I certainly would rather work for a company that cares enough to issue such a report than the egregiously selfish ad agency Kevin points to, the Starbucks report does raise a question: Who do you trust any more?

So, Starbucks does up a lovely color brochure explaining just how good a world citizen it is. Kudos for at least pretending to care. But how much of the report is BS? Maybe none. Maybe most. I'm pretty sure that in the report there's no good deed unaccounted for, but I can't tell if there are bad deeds left unmentioned - e.g., I've heard nasty things about the run-off from curing coffee beans. Nor can I judge just how big a push Starbucks is making relative to the scope of its business.

I absolutely don't mean to pick on Starbucks. After all, since the Boston Globe reported today that it's getting its Venti butt handed to it in New England by none other than Dunkin freaking Donuts, I have a certain sympathy for it. (Starbucks has about 200 stores in New England while the Dunkin D has over 1,600.) Besides, announcing that ethics matters to you is itself an ethical act worth praising.

But my faith in corporations is about where my faith in Nixon was in 1973: I don't believe anything they say except 'You're fired.' I await word from knowledgeable bloggers to guide my thought because, taken in sum, they're more reliable than a corporation's carefully worded declarations of good intents. And that's not a criticism of Starbucks. It's more depressing than that.

1 comment

Kevin Salwen - 4/13/2004 12:00:27 PM
Yikes, here I am, the 18-year veteran of the Wall Street Journal, a guy deeply schooled in the art of skepticism (or skeptimism, as I once malapropped on CNBC), having to play the role of the glass half-full guy to Weinberger's glass half-empty perspective.

But I'm in that position because of a couple of things: First, I truly believe that some people are TRYING to do the right thing. For instance, Howard Schultz built Starbucks on the values that provided health insurance for workers at 20 hours a week vs. the 30 that was standard in the industry. That's one reason their employee turnover is so low in the notoriously churning fast-food industry. A history of progressiveness breeds a bit of goodwill from me.

Second, I have lived too long with the guilty until proved innocent philosophy. Of course, companies will tout their good deeds, valid or not. So, clearly a scratch below the surface is mandatory. But I look for two things in companies: That, as I said, they're starting from the right place in their collective soul and, beyond that, that they are in a continuous process of self-improvement. In other words, they acknowledge imperfection and work to do better each day.

That's a pretty good place to be. Not perfect, but pretty good and worthy of plaudit.


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