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Letter from Howard Schultz to U.S. Senator Cory Booker

July 8, 2015

Dear Senator Booker:

I’m writing to commend you and your colleagues for your recent efforts to “ban the box” and extend the fundamental American value of a “second chance” to millions of Americans. We hope your efforts to change federal policy can benefit from the experience and success we in the private sector have had in hiring policies that enable opportunities for our people and the communities they serve.  

In America, opportunities take many forms: Freedom. Education. The support of family and community. A job. Sometimes that opportunity is simply a second chance. Unfortunately, equal access to these and other advantages is not yet a reality for all Americans. 

Today, over 70 million Americans have a criminal history. For hard-working and well-intentioned individuals, a criminal history can make the opportunity to find a job and move forward almost impossible to achieve. 

This has an impact on all of us. Unemployment among past offenders increases the chances that they will commit another crime and thus become costly financial burdens to the state. According to a 2011 study of the formerly incarcerated, a lack of employment was the single most negative determinant of recidivism. Unemployment and recidivism also disproportionately affect minority communities, especially in major urban areas where nearly one in three adults has a criminal record. More broadly, our national economy suffers. In one landmark study, economists estimate that the nation’s gross domestic product in 2008 was between $57 and $65 billion lower as a consequence of excluding formerly incarcerated people from the workforce.

Lately, more public and private voices are calling for flexible hiring practices that would provide more Americans with a second chance. This includes the movement to “ban the box,” the term commonly used to refer to the practice of ensuring that employers do not ask a candidate about their criminal history on the initial job application.  Ensuring that applicants are not judged on their criminal history alone allows millions of individuals the second opportunities they need to re-write their life stories and contribute to our society.

At Starbucks, we support the idea that there are smart, compassionate ways to try to provide more individuals a second chance. We do not inquire about criminal histories on initial job applications and we run background checks only after a conditional offer of employment. Our intent is to provide applicants with a criminal history the chance to be evaluated as a whole person by having their circumstances considered on a case-by-case basis, including the opportunity to present any information they choose to ensure we have a full picture of who they are before making a final hiring decision.

None of this is charity. We are simply giving people an opportunity—sometimes a second one—to prove themselves while helping to grow our company. Starbucks particular approach to hiring may not apply to every company. Each organization must find its own balance between safety, fairness and good business. More important than any specific process, however, is the potential we have to help restore humanity into the difficult process of applying for a job while harnessing the power of America’s diverse labor force.   

As an American who grew up in public housing, I understand firsthand that opportunities—for me, supportive parents, a college scholarship, investors who believe in me—are launch pads to achieving dreams. But the American Dream cannot be a one-shot deal.  I also know that the past does not have to dictate the future. It’s the rare entrepreneur who has not failed as well as succeeded. The rare lawmaker who has not lost as well as won elections. The rare athlete who hasn’t missed more shots than she’s made. Indeed, this country has always been about invention as well as reinvention.

Equal access to opportunities, for those willing to work hard and play fair, continues to be the promise of our country. I support your efforts to call on our collective responsibility, as a nation, to help ensure that promise is kept.


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