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Starbucks and McDonalds Raise the Bar on Social Responsibility

So, based on a social media backlash and nasty rants in the media, Starbucks had to retreat from its “Race Together” campaign last week, which was bashed by loud nay-sayers as a negative, when it was meant to be a positive – a way of simply having a conversation and bringing attitude and opinions about race out in the open. After all that is what “café life” is about traditionally, having conversations, no?

But Starbucks capitulated and now it is “off the books.” Really too bad… One of the titans in Corporate America, was leading the charge to encourage dialogue and got stymied. Maybe the program needed more substance such as training the baristas as to what they could expect and offer some education within context, for the conversations to happen. But the idea was excellent.

Likewise, McDonalds, as noted in the New York Times Opinion sector today, has gotten bad raps for years; it created a Twitter hashtag, #McDStories, that turned into a bashing event; their sale to Chipotle went bad for them; their chicken wings came and went. and so on. And all that despite their attempts at righting wrongs, like phasing out chickens raised on antibiotics meant to treat humans and unilaterally raising salaries of minimum-wage workers and granting a small amount of paid vacation to company employees as well as financial assistance for education to all workers in its system.

Yet what is significant is that both companies are nudging Corporate America to sit up and take notice about raising the bar of social responsibility on diverse fronts. This time it is recognition that education matters.

Starbucks announced that it will cover four years of tuition reimbursement for workers to earn an online undergraduate degree from Arizona State University, instead of just two years. The expanded Starbucks College Achievement Plan will be offered to more than 140,000 full-time and part-time partners (employees) and will also provide a remarkable additional benefit.

Last week, McDonald’s Corp. also announced it was expanding a college tuition assistance program to workers at all its U.S. stores and is open to employees at the chain’s more than 14,300 U.S. stores, including those owned by franchisees.

The programs come with limitations, of course. But they are a start and if other corporations give heed and create, and fund, innovative programs to educate the next generations of America, we, as a country, will be stronger. Corporations can take over where governments lack the funds (or votes) to create change.

According to Lisa Schumacher, director of education strategies at McDonald’s, “The unfortunate reality is that too many Americans can no longer afford a college degree, particularly disadvantaged young people. We’re stronger as a nation when everyone is afforded a pathway to success.”

In the words of Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, “Everyone deserves a chance at the American dream.”

Thank you Starbucks and McDonalds.

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