By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian
NEW YORK, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp plans to circulate petitions to customers across the United States urging lawmakers to reopen the partially closed government and avoid a looming default, the coffee chain’s CEO Howard Schultz said on Thursday.
Schultz said he was acting because of a “sad and striking realization that the American people have no platform with which to voice their frustration and outrage” over the shutdown, which began last week after Democrats rejected Republican efforts to undercut the Affordable Care Act.
The “voluntary, non-partisan” petition asks Congress and the White House to reopen the government, pay U.S. debts on time, and pass a long-term bipartisan budget deal by the year-end.
Copies will be available in Starbucks stores, online, and in tear-out ads due to run on Friday in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Washington Post. From this Friday through the weekend, people can take a signed petition to a Starbucks store or sign it in a store. They can also sign the petition online.
Schultz also sent letters on Thursday to business leaders, encouraging them to sign on to his initiative. He said he had spoken with leaders of half of the 30 companies listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and “every CEO I spoke to shared my concern and my outrage about the situation in Washington.”
Schultz, one of the most prominent CEOs in the United States and a registered Democrat, would not specify which companies he had contacted.
He said he had also talked to the White House and to Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, the chairs of the Senate and House Budget committees in charge of negotiations over the federal debt limit.
“It was apparent to me that we are on a collision course with time. That is why we made the decision to proceed” Schultz said of those discussions.
Schultz said he was acting primarily as an American citizen, not an executive whose company’s profits rely heavily on consumer confidence and spending.
“I‘m not doing this because of the business angle,” he said.
Still, in times of extreme political dysfunction, “the responsibility of a company of any kind is changing because we have to provide for employees, help the communities we serve, and obviously, the government is not providing the leadership it once did.”
The White House has a similar online petition platform called We the People. Launched by the Obama administration in 2011, it guarantees responses to petitions that accrue 100,000 signatures within 30 days.
That site is currently offline, a casualty of the far-reaching shutdown that has closed national parks, forced federal employees into furloughs, and halted benefits to the poor.
Schultz is not the only business leader speaking out against the shutdown. Around 250 business groups sent a letter to lawmakers on Monday pleading with them to fund the government and raise the debt limit while cutting entitlement spending.
Big business, which often sides with the Republican party, has found itself marginalized by conservative groups opposed to compromise in the country’s current fiscal crisis. Companies fear that a prolonged shutdown and subsequent default would have a catastrophic effect on the U.S. economy.
Schultz is typically more outspoken on political issues than his fellow executives. During the battle over raising the debt ceiling in August 2011, Schultz called for Americans to stop making political contributions until lawmakers struck a bipartisan deal on the country’s debt, revenue and spending.
He has not made a contribution since and says this is unlikely to change in the future.
In a separate move this week aimed at setting an example to lawmakers, Schultz told employees the firm would give customers a free tall coffee if they buy a drink for a fellow patron.
“Please join me in helping our customers come together to support and connect with one another, even as we wait for our elected officials to do the same for our country,” he said in a message on Tuesday.
After a series of mass shootings across the United States, Schultz wrote an open letter to customers in September, asking them to voluntarily stop bringing guns into Starbucks.
Schultz says shareholders have not complained about his sometimes polarizing outspokenness as the firm has shown it is a “a performance-driven company through the lens of humanity.”