Starbucks, known for its piping hot coffee, is throwing itself into the middle of yet another heated national debate.
The world’s biggest coffee chain said Thursday that it will ask customers and businesses to sign a petition calling for an end to the partial government shutdown that has forced hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job.
The petition, which will be available to sign at all 11,000 Starbucks locations in the U.S. beginning Friday, calls for reopening the government, paying debts on time and passing a long-term budget deal by the end of the year. In addition to Starbucks customers, the company is trying to get the CEOs of the nation’s largest companies to sign.
The move is unusual for a company like Starbucks. While big brands generally steer clear of politics to avoid alienating customers, Starbucks and its outspoken CEO, Howard Schultz, in recent years have run toward the spotlight by trying to gain a voice in national political issues.
But because the company’s efforts are generally non-partisan and unlikely to cause controversy, marketing and corporate image experts say they burnish Starbucks’s reputation as a socially-conscious company.
“It’s always risky when brands mix politics and business,” said Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York-based branding firm Landor Associates. “But the benefit for Starbucks likely outweighs the risk.”
Last month, Schultz asked customers not to bring guns into Starbucks stores. In December of last year, the chain asked its employees to write “Come together” on cups, to send a message to lawmakers about the damage being caused by the divisive negotiations over the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax and spending cuts that was scheduled to become effective Dec. 31, 2012.
And in 2011, Schultz asked other chief executives to join him in halting campaign contributions until politicians stopped their partisan bickering over the debt ceiling, which led to a downgrade in the country’s credit rating. The CEOs of more than 100 companies, from AOL to Zipcar, took the pledge. Also in 2011, Starbucks collected donations for a program to stimulate job growth.
On Wednesday, the company made headlines when it said it would give a free coffee to anyone in its stores who buys someone else’s order in a “pay it forward” gesture.
On Friday, Starbucks plans to post its petition to try to put an end to the partial government shutdown in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. It also will be in stores and available to print out.
“I believe that we will capture the voices of the American people,” Schultz said. “We want to send a powerful message to Washington.”