You Are Starbucks

I took this picture at my cozy neighbourhood Starbucks yesterday:

The poster advertises the company’s “10-year partnership with Conservation International to make the world a better place for coffee farmers — and everyone else.”

But what struck me was the “Everything we do, you do” part. On one hand, it’s a cute little bit of feel-good advertising. (“Wow, by spending $5 for a fancy coffee, I’m making the world a better place!) On the other hand, it’s an interesting point about the metaphysics of corporations. Now, I don’t buy the idea that corporations are merely legal fictions, incapable of intending things, taking action, being responsible for things, and so on. But there’s a perfectly good sense in which the corporation’s actions do depend quite crucially on the actions of various human beings, and that includes managers, employees, shareholders and, yes, customers. Everything Starbucks does is funded by sales of coffee (etc.). So everything they do does depend on its customers. Of course, customers aren’t directly responsible for any particular action by the company. So, question: what actions — good or bad — can sensibly be attributed, in some sense, to a company’s customers? And are all customers equal in that regard?

3 comments so far

  1. Shaun Baker on

    Similar question can be raised about democratic nations and acts of governments. They are funded by their citizens,who are in a relationship somewhat analogous to the consensual relationship that exists between a company and its customers, so, speaking negatively, just what actions of government can citizens be held responsible for, and speaking positively, what actions of their governments can they share credit for, crow about? There is one obvious disanalogy though, the handing over of moneys is, shall we say, a bit more voluntary in the latter case, less so in the former. The democratic nature of the society somewhat mitigates there.

    Interesting post and blog!

  2. DarryleHuffman on

    It seems to me that Starbucks is making the consumer apart of thier business. In essence like an employee of the company. Buy buying the coffee they are helping with the companies innitives alongs side ther actual employees.

  3. jpbauer on

    Excellent post!

    Acting as a collective, customers can and do control the fate of many a company or even industries. Take for example the Canadian hog producers. Consumers fear of the so-called “swine flu” has crippled the sales of pork products, thereby causing the pork industry to seek government support to maintain their existence.

    What will really be interesting to observe over the next several years is the fate of the north american auto manufacturing industry. Most auto analysts agree that although government intervention has temporarily saved GM and Chrysler from the brink of disaster in the short term, it is the automobile consumers acting collectively through their individual buying decisions which shall determine which car companies succeed and prosper over the long term.

    And the list goes on and on. Power in the marketplace really is to the people in the long run. And with power comes a certain amount of individual responsibility. This is where it gets tricky. Just how is such responsibilty to be exercised? What are the guiding principles i.e., sustainibility, and who gets to determine them?

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