Starbucks has received much praise for their commitment to hire 10,000 refugees as a response to Donald Trump’s U.S. Immigration Ban. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz demonstrated his opposition to Trump’s actions in a passionate open letter, and pledged to hire refugees that have served with the U.S. military. Given the immense economic, cultural, and political influence of franchises like Starbucks, their role in swaying public discourse and resisting white supremacy is certainly noteworthy.
Schultz’s statement expressed explicit support for undocumented minors, for providing health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, and for building bridges with Mexico, rather than walls. Indeed, many refugees and newcomers struggle to find employment due to the many barriers to labour market entry, including strict and fragmented credential recognition regimes. Furthermore, formal employment with an establishment such as Starbucks offers more protections than more clandestine sectors, such as domestic work or street vending.
Nevertheless, Starbucks’ announcement leaves more questions than answers. What labour standard will be put in place to protect refugees from abuse and exploitation at the workplace? How will Starbucks strengthen their policies surrounding employment and language ability to address those challenges? Once employed, will the new hires be able to afford basic living expenses or will they be part-time and poorly paid?
By focusing recruitment on those that have already served as interpreters and support personnel for the U.S. military, Starbucks’ initiative prioritizes refugees that are highly educated and skilled. This policy is therefore consistent with many countries’ selection process of resettlement, which favour settling those that already have high formal education and labour market abilities. Ironically, western states choose to resettle immigrants and refugees that are highly educated, and then professional associations refuse to recognize their credentials or international work experience. This lack of recognition contributes to the precarious employment in which newcomers can find themselves, and Starbucks’ policy would perpetuate this trend.
In his statement, Schultz also emphasized the massive economic and social contributions made by refugees to their host communities and uses this as justification for assisting refugees. However, human rights are for everyone, not just those who are identified as contributors. While it is important to highlight the contributions of refugees, this is still capitalist logic (by linking a person’s rights to their economic productivity) and is consistent with ideas of market citizenship.
While Schultz’ statement highlights the ways in which Starbucks’ supports the Mexican coffee producers from which they source, the company’s environmental and ethical standards must be questioned. In 2013, only 8.4% of the coffee they purchased was certified Fair Trade, as indicated in Starbucks’ very own Global Responsibility Report. In addition, coffee production has been linked to land dispossession, which has contributed to the displacement of small-scale farming communities.
Although Starbucks’ commitment to hire refugees is a strong political stance against Trump era politics and will indeed benefit some of the people hired, we need stronger employment standards and higher wages to protect all workers. Starbucks could take further action by lobbying professional associations to relax their credential recognition processes, which would allow more newcomers to work in their fields of expertise, and prevent them from having to take employment in precarious sectors. Starbucks could actively encourage its own workers to unionize, which would increase the labour standards, wages, and protections for the refugees and displaced persons the company has committed to hire. Additionally, Starbucks should extend beyond hiring former military translators in the United States, and focus instead on hiring those who would typically not be able to access such jobs, rather than continuing to feed into American patriotism and the military-industrial complex.
There are also a number of things people in Victoria can do to get involved in resisting Trump’s politics. This can include writing to your MP about the ways in which Canada’s immigration policies continue to harm refugees, including the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, employer-tied visas within Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and Canada’s ending of the private refugee sponsorship program. The Retail Action Network (RAN) is mobilizing the $15&Change campaign, through which we are collecting signatures to improve wages and working conditions in BC. RAN offers opportunities to engage directly with workers in the hospitality industry in Victoria, during the monthly Worker’s Wednesday and direct action events.