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Howard Schultz comments on Charlottesville Joshua Trujillo

Starbucks, Panera Bread founders respond to Charlottesville events

Howard Schultz and Ron Shaich speak out about racially motivated violence

The founders of Starbucks Corp. and Panera Bread added their voices this week to a growing chorus of business leaders speaking out after the events in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.

Starbucks founder Howard Shultz, speaking to an overflow crowd of employees at the company’s Seattle headquarters on Tuesday, said: “I know we are better than this.”

“I come to you as an American, as a Jew, as a parent, as a grandparent, as an almost 40-year partner of this company,” Schultz said. “I come to you with profound, profound concern about the lack of character, morality, humanity, and what this might mean for young children and young generations that are growing up at a time in which we are imprinting them with levels of behaviors and conduct that are beneath the United States of America.”

Ron Shaich, founder of Panera Bread, told employees Wednesday: “It’s been a distressing few days for anyone who values inclusion, tolerance and American values.”

Schultz’s talk on Tuesday was called, “Hate has no home here.” Shaich released his statement to employees with a tweet that said, “Hate has no place [at Panera Bread] or in America.”

Over the weekend, white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville for a rally, with fights and scuffles between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist counter demonstrators. Numerous people were injured and one woman was killed after an Ohio man allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter demonstrators. 

President Donald Trump’s reaction to the violence, for which he said “two sides” shared blame, and later doubled down on that view, drew bipartisan criticism. That led many CEOs to drop out of a pair of Trump’s business advisory councils, which were ultimately disbanded.

Schultz and Shaich are two of the more vocal and outspoken executives in the restaurant industry.

Schultz has not been shy about weighing in on political or social issues. He endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, and earlier this year Starbucks announced plans to hire 10,000 refugeesSchultz has inspired talk that he might run for president in 2020.

At times, Schultz struggled to keep his composure during his talk, which lasted an hour and a half and included comments and questions from employees.

“The moral fiber, the values and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss,” he said. “We are at a critical juncture in American history. That is not an exaggeration. We are facing a crucible in which our daily life is being challenged and being questioned about what is right and what is wrong.”

Schultz said he worried that the actions in Charlottesville are being “normalized.”

“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,” he said.

Shaich said “‘alt-right’ groups giving neo-Nazi salutes, yelling anti-Semitic chants and running down law-abiding citizens … are not nice people who anyone should defend.” 

The comment seemed to be a direct response to Trump, who said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Shaich focused on the positive.

“With every distressing event, there has been another that inspired confidence in America,” he wrote. “First we’ve seen that the rule of law works. These extremist groups don’t control us, or our country. People who commit hate crimes and mow people down with a car are arrested.”

He also mentioned responses from Senators Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson, John McCain, Bernie Sanders and Jeff Flake, as well as the response by CEOs who were on Trump’s panels, as evidence that there are “good people” who “are declaring that this is not the American way.”

“I am very proud that Panera has always been a place where law-abiding people are welcome to work, to eat and to gather without intimidation, and you can rest assured that your entire leadership team is committed to keeping it that way,” Shaich wrote. 

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze 

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