Why was the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt demoted by Starbucks after having been originally named as one of four leaders of an upcoming bias training program?

“For decades ADL has been one of the leading providers in the US of anti-bias training,” said Todd Gutnick, the ADL’s spokesperson. “This encompasses dealing with many forms of intolerance including racism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim bias and anti-Semitism, and reaching for instance, 1.5 million school children and educators each year. When Starbucks asked for assistance, we agreed to help. As to whether Starbucks may or may not now want to utilize our expertise,  you should ask them.”

I did.

“I wouldn’t call it a demotion,” said Reggie Borges, Senior Manager, Global Corporate Communications at Starbucks. The company’s “initial announcement did have a number of different experts that we would lean on and get guidance from,” he said, adding that the company’s “multiphased approach” was developed with these partners, the ADL included, and that anyone who suspects any foul play should just clear things up with the ADL.

Which leaves us with the same unsolved mystery: On April 17, Starbucks announced its core group of five experts who will lead the first step of its bias education effort; it named four names, including Greenblatt’s. Last week, a follow-up announcement mentioned only three of the original group of experts, and noted a fourth, former Attorney General Eric Holder, as a “key external advisor.” Greenblatt’s name was omitted, though the announcement does name the ADL as one of a “diverse array of organizations and civil rights experts” with which Starbucks will consult.

What happened here?

You may believe Starbucks and see the whole thing as a terrible misunderstanding. Or you may continue to wonder why Greenblatt’s name alone was removed from the original group of experts, and whether the demotion had something to do with Tamika Mallory the Women’s March leader who criticized Starbucks’ affiliation with the ADL, which she accused of “constantly attacking black and brown people.”

It’s not hard to imagine why Starbucks paid attention: Seeing Mallory everywhere from Glamour to Time, the corporation might’ve assumed that she’s a credible, mainstream figure. Since being heralded for her work with the Women’s March, however, Mallory has revealed herself to be an acolyte of Louis Farrakhan and a Bill Cosby apologist, which makes her apparent influence in this case all the more troubling.

As Starbucks is one of the largest and most beloved brands in America, the company’s conduct in this case matters. And to help you further ponder this point, consider the following: Before becoming the ADL’s CEO, Greenblatt sold his company, Ethos Water, to—drumroll—Starbucks, joining the coffee giant as Vice President of Global Consumer Products. This puts Greenblatt in a prickly position: Even if Starbucks did demote him, any reasonable adult would think twice before picking up the spear and charging at a former employer. This is especially true when the former employer is a corporate behemoth that offers to still keep the ADL as part of its training mix: With anti-bias education being a major part of the ADL’s mission, any responsible organization with a responsible board of directors would be very unlikely to go ahead and blow things up with Starbucks, no matter how stinging it found the slight. This is how level-headed adults behave in the real world.

If Starbucks did knowingly and deliberately demote Greenblatt, then, it was a move the company likely understood it could make without fearing too many repercussions. It’s hard to review the observable facts in this case without concluding that Starbucks shamefully relegated Greenblatt and the ADL, caving in to pressure from bigots.





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