The Commonwealth of Starbucks

Starbucks Commonwealth

Last month, Starbucks started giving full-time employees in China monthly housing allowances. The benefit, which will cover about half of the average worker’s housing costs, according to the company, is just Starbucks’s latest welfare policy roll-out. This year, the company will start giving U.K. employees interest-free loans to help pay the exorbitant up-front apartment-rental fees common in many cities there. Meanwhile, in the United States, Starbucks has started paying for employees to attend college, a program that began in 2014. About 5,000 have enrolled so far, and some 200 will have graduated by this summer.

I wrote about the company's college initiative on the cover of the Atlantic last year. Now we take a look at the connections between the US benefits and new policies worldwide.

What Starbucks does in China in particular is telling. China is now Starbucks's second largest market after the U.S. Soon, it will be the first. The company is opening more than one new store in China every day. Their success there, in a tea-drinking country with immense poverty, is remarkable.

Now the company is looking ahead to a China where workers are hard to find and harder to keep. There is no Starbucks without its baristas, so the company is finding ways to make their lives less miserable—just as it has in the U.S. and the UK.

The uncomfortable truth is that Starbucks currently depends upon the haves and the have-nots. The haves are their customers, and the have-nots are their workers. Like many companies and quite a few countries, Starbucks needs both groups to be satisfied—or at least apathetic—in order to thrive.

Are you a Starbucks employee? Or a customer? Chances are you have been one or both—or will be soon. Check out the rest of the story here, and let me know what you think on Twitter.

Photo: Alicea Thomas, a Starbucks supervisor, in Southern California.

GeneralAmanda Ripley