Starbucks (SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz has never been afraid to wade into the political waters most chief executives fear.
So it was hardly a surprise to see the coffee giant’s leader lament the tone of current presidential primary campaigns and call on his workers to help hold politicians to a higher standard of discourse.
“I think it’s turned into something none of us has ever seen before, which I would label as almost a circus of yelling bombastic attacks, of a lack of respect, of a lack of dignity,” Schultz told a group of employees at an open forum last week at Starbucks’ Carson Valley Roasting Plant in Nevada. “We are talking about the highest office in the land and the most powerful person in the world.”
Though he didn’t single out either of the major parties or name any names, it’s hard to deny it’s been a salty political season. Some recent highlights? Donald Trump, fresh off of calling Ted Cruz a derogatory term that begins with the letter p, has threatened to sue to keep his Canadian-born rival out of the race. Earlier in the campaign, Trump went after Jeb Bush’s Mexican-born wife. But others have taken part too in the polarization, albeit much more tactfully. Former President Bill Clinton this weekend likened Sen. Bernie Sanders’ groundswell of support to the Democratic equivalent of the Tea Party.
Schultz raised some hackles last year when he launched a quickly aborted campaign to have Starbucks baristas and customers discuss the state of race relations in America. Two years before that, he found himself in the crosshairs of gun rights advocates when he asked that customers refrain from bringing firearms into Starbucks stores even if local laws allow it.
But in his talk to employees, Schultz dismissed that notion that he should keep mum, saying that with its thousands of stores across the U.S., Starbucks is a tool to “elevate the discourse.”
“People have said well, your role is to create shareholder value and profits, not to use Starbucks as a political tool,” he said. “It’s none of that. It’s my grave concern about where the country is and asking myself what we can do.”
In 2012, Schultz endorsed President Obama when he was running for his second term. He has yet to announce his support for any candidate in the current race.