Following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last weekend, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz spoke to his employees at a forum called “Hate has no hope here.” Schultz called the meeting to “address the violence, hatred, and empowerment of white supremacists and neo-Nazis” in recent days. During his talk, Schultz said:
What we witnessed this past weekend… is against every sense of what is right. My fear is not only that this behavior is being given permission and license, but its conduct is being normalized to the point where people are no longer hiding their face. We’ve all seen pictures of the KKK in the South … they were hiding because they were afraid to be outed. People are no longer afraid.
The moral fiber, the values, and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss. We are at a critical juncture in American history. That is not an exaggeration. We are at and facing a crucible in which our daily life is being challenged and being questioned about what is right and what is wrong.
Schultz, who is of Jewish descent, addressed the crowd of nearly 1,500 staffers with humility and a rare display of emotion. He had brought a small stone with him, a piece of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which was passed around the room.
“I know we are better than this,” Schultz told the crowd.
This is not the first time Schultz, who stepped down as CEO of Starbucks earlier this year, has commented about race relations or politics. An outspoken Democrat, Schultz has come under fire for mixing business with his politics. Conservatives have boycotted Starbucks several times in the past year because of the coffee brand’s politically minded messaging. On several occasions, the company has been forced to defend its stance.
Schultz wasn’t the only business leader to denounce hate speech this week. Ron Shaich, the CEO of Panera Bread, wrote a letter to his staffers yesterday, which he later shared on Twitter. “It’s been a distressing few days for anyone who values inclusion, tolerance and American values,” Shaich began. After condemning violence, extremist views, and neo-Nazis, Shaich wrote, “You can count me personally as one American who will do all in my power to fight hate."