Starbucks raises eyebrows by asking baristas to talk about racism with customers

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Starbucks customers can now add discussion about racism to their latte order.

In an initiative that has raised some eyebrows, the head of the US coffee shop chain has called on baristas in the United States to discuss the sensitive issue with customers.

Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz launched the "Race Together" programme, saying the United States needs a "new level of sensitivity, understanding around these issues."

The programme comes after discussions on racism among staff at the company's headquarters in Seattle, Washington, Schultz said in a video on the company's website.

During those exchanges the idea emerged to continue the discussions with customers nationwide because "we have problems in this country with regard to race and racial inequality."

Starbucks' programme comes in the wake of protests across the US over racism and police use of force following a string of killings of unarmed black men.

Starbucks coffee cups will be inscribed with the "Race Together" title and the company plans to advertise the programme in newspapers.

Schultz meets with shareholders Wednesday for an annual meeting where he is known for sparking debate on controversial issues, including a prohibition on guns in shops, and support for gay marriage.

The announcement prompted a surge of comment online Tuesday, with some people questioning whether an expensive coffee shop is the best place to start a discussion about race.

"Are Starbucks baristas paid enough to essentially serve as anti-racism educators while making lattes?" a post on the activist site Black Youth Project asked.