Monday, November 26, 2018

Starbucks in Hot Water After Potential Racist Call to The Police (2018)

The Case

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson are two African American men who decided on April 12th that
they were going to go to a Starbucks in Philadelphia to have a business meeting.  They arrived at about
4:35 p.m. for their meeting which was scheduled for 4:45, they did not order anything right away when
Logo for Starbucks
they came into the store. Nelson asked the manager to use the bathroom, which he got the response that it was only for paying customers.  Nelson said that he “left it at that” and then went back to the table with Robinson and continued to wait for their business partner. the manager then approached the two men and asked if they would like to order anything, the two men declined the offer.  The manager asked the men to leave, the men declined this offer as well, saying that they were waiting for somebody. The manager then called the police only two minutes after the men originally came into the store.  The policemen walked up to the men and immediately asked them to leave, not asking for any context of what the issue was “We wasn’t read any rights - nothing" Robinson said. "Just double-lock handcuffs behind our backs and escorted out and put into a squad car" Throughout this their business partner showed up as well.Robinson and Nelson were brought down to the police station where they were held for hours after their arrest.  They were let out at approximately 1:30 am. The men in the end were not charged with anything because there was “a lack of evidence that a crime was committed”.


Starbucks will always depend on their relationship with its Stakeholders.  If Starbucks’ customers start to not want to support the company or the products, the company will fall off.  There are plenty of other companies doing about the same thing as Starbucks, sell coffee. If all of the consumers realize that they could just go across the street and get coffee from somewhere else that is more ethical, a lot of customers would.  A solid relationship with consumers should be Starbucks main concern. This also means that consumer safety is a huge part of that too. If a customer does not feel like they can safely go into the store and order their food, the simply will not. With this incident it made a lot of African Americans feel like Starbucks might not be the safest place to go get their coffee, in turn, making Starbucks lose some of their customers.
Picture From Outside a Starbucks with Protesters

 Dunkin is also a very big stakeholder in this incident. Dunkin is Starbucks leading competitor and they have the same type of company, a coffee shop. If consumers decide that they will not be getting their coffee from Starbucks anymore, most likely they will go to Dunkin, since it is as readily available as Starbucks.


From an individualist perspective, the management at Starbucks did not do anything ethically wrong, but in the end outcome is not desired because it lowered profits.  Milton Friedman stated that the main goal of management is to maximize profits for the company while staying within the boundaries of the law. What the manager did was not “illegal” in any way, but the after affects of what happened is not what an individualist person wants. An individualist would not believe that kicking a non-paying customer out of their store is not a big deal, because they are not helping raise profits so they do not need to be on the premises.  However, when they did this, it made thousands of paying customers no longer want to go spend their money at Starbucks. This is the opposite of what Friedman would want because they are losing way more profit rather than if they just let the two men sit in the store and wait for their business associate.  

Starbucks Employees Receiving Training

A Utilitarian would view Starbucks as being unethical in this situation because of the mass amounts of consequences that came along with it.  Utilitarianism tells us that we can determine the ethical significance of any action by looking to the consequences of that act.  If the manager at Starbucks thought out the possible consequences of his actions he probably would not have kicked the men out..  He kicked the men out for not buying anything, which should not be a huge deal, but the policy for kicking people out was not the same for everybody. The consequences that actually occurred from this event were very bad for everybody.  It made Starbucks look unethical and racist, made people start to boycott the store, and it made them shut down for a day to figure out how to fix this. The executives of Starbucks did try to handle the situation as ethically as possible and did a pretty good job of doing so.  The CEO came out and apologized and showed that Starbucks does care about the customers and that they will fix this issue. A Utilitarian would definitely not do what the manager at this Starbucks would do.  They would first think of what the repercussions were and decide that calling the police of the two black men would not be worth the consequences that may come out of it.

CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz

A Kantian thinker would be considering what the thought process was with kicking these men out.  Kantianism does not make decisions based on consequences. Kantian thinkers do not look at the consequences, but they look at the will of the person who made the decision.  This description best fits how the manager at Starbucks was probable thinking when he mad the call to the police. The thought process with the manager at Starbucks was most likely that the men did not purchase anything from the store, so they did not need to be there.  The manager did ask the men to leave, they denied, which likely prompted the manager to call the police. What the manager did was not unethical for the fact that the men were not purchasing anything and that the store does have the right to refuse service to anybody that they please, however the men were in the store for a very short time.  The time that the men spent in the lobby before the police were called was only about two minutes. A Kantian thinker would have to take this into consideration too, that the manager had very little patience in his decision to call the police.  The manager made a judgement call which turned out to be a pretty poor call in the amount of people it angered, but his decision was not very unethical in a Kantian way of thinking.

Virtue Theory

When looking at a situation the way a virtue theorist would, you will have to compare it slightly to the way a Kantian thinker would.  It is similar because they think more on the means and not focus a lot on the end outcome. When looking at how a virtue theorist should act it states in the Case Manual that they should “Act so as to embody a variety of virtuous or good character traits and so as to avoid vicious pr bad character traits”.  In saying this it would make the manager at the Starbucks look very unethical. This is because he showed poor character in the decisions that he made towards these two men. Starbucks violated virtues that we use to judge somebody’s character.  One virtue that the manager lacked was patience. He showed lack of patience with these men in how he called the police within 2 minutes of the men coming into the store.  The manager at Starbucks also lacked empathy, a trait that shows how much you care about people other than yourself.  He showed that he lacked empathy because he had the audacity to call the police on two black businessmen for trying to have a little meeting in Starbucks, a store that is known for having people come in and do work.  There was no reason for the manager to have to police come and arrest these men for being there.

These facts and analyses are based on an original research paper by Riley Delaney


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DesJardins, Joseph. An Introduction to Business Ethics. New York City: The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc, 2014.

Hursthouse, Rosalind, and Glen Pettigrove. “Virtue Ethics.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 18 July 2003,

Jones, Charisse. “Is It OK to Kick Someone out of a Store?” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 9 Aug. 2018,

Lepore, Meredith. “15 Facts About Starbucks That Will Blow Your Mind.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 25 Mar. 2011,

Miller, Hayley. “Black Men Arrested At Starbucks Said They Were There For 2 Minutes Before 911 Call.” The Huffington Post,, 19 Apr. 2018,

Santa Clara University. “The CEO of Starbucks and the Practice of Ethical Leadership.” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics,

Salazar, Heather. The Business Ethics Case Manual. n.d

Stevens, Matt. “Starbucks C.E.O. Apologizes After Arrests of 2 Black Men.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Apr. 2018,

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