Ask the Sprofessionals—Cafés & Activism

In this series, seven industry experts sound off on issues around café policy, breaking down the ins and outs of how café systems affect morale and retention.


Volume 1—The Sprofessionals on Cafés & Activism

In the first installment of “Ask the Sprofessionals,” we’ve gathered a panel of veteran coffee pros to share their expertise on an often controversial subject: cafés and activism.

Coffee has a long, rich partnership with social justice work and progressivism, but especially in charged political climates, many cafés feel more comfortable staying away from political causes. Does representing causes your workers believe in create a more engaged community space? Do workers benefit when cafés decide to take a stand for social causes?

The Sprofessionals are here to help break down the pros and cons of repping social causes.

The Question: Do you feel that companies representing causes that employees are passionate about helps employees feel supported?

Randy Levine, four years in coffee, barista at Café Volan in Asbury Park, N.J.

“I don’t think any of the places I’ve worked have done this, but I do support the idea. I would be happy to be involved if my employer wanted to work with charitable causes.

I understand for some people it can seem to create a divide along political lines, but I think it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to be clear about what their values are. Many of these issues are in themselves apolitical (Planned Parenthood, ACLU, BLM, for instance), and can and should be framed as supporting human rights and equality, independent of political affiliation.

Many employees’ lives are personally affected by these issues. To feel supported and cared for at work is a powerful thing. The idea that work and life are separate is a myth. A happy, healthy, supported person will always be a better employee.”

Jasper Wilde, 11 years in coffee, coffee educator at Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco

“Yes! I created a signature beverage and a portion of the profits went to Haight Street Medical Clinic. I was very happy to have chosen an organization that is local and serves homeless and queer youth.

My company also participated in an industry-wide ACLU donation fundraiser. If my company is willing get involved with movements that I care about, I feel valued and know that I have a place in that company.”

Adam JacksonBey, six years in coffee, café owner/manager at Avalon Coffee

“In the past, my line was that anything for women or children we would be involved in, because no one could be against that.

Now, I feel like a company should accurately reflect the views and interests of its owner and employees. That was a personal journey for me, but I feel like with my next opportunity I’ll look for more opportunities to support employees.”

Amanda Whitt, pictured above, notes that using employee tips to donate to a cause often asks baristas to be more charitable than business owners, who often will get the credit for such a gesture.

Amanda Whitt, 12 years in coffee, bartender/barista

“I’m conflicted on this … sometimes, yes.  

Sometimes, I’ve felt that I was being pressured to donate my tips, time, and extra emotional labor to make things happen when I felt like my work was disproportionate to my employer’s. They were getting all the accolades, and at the end of the day we weren’t raising all that much money.  

I’ve rarely worked with charity-type events where I felt that the money raised was proportionate to the hype that the businesses received for being so charitable.”  

The Takeaways:

  1. Repping causes can greatly benefit staff morale.
  2. If companies do fund-raise or rep causes, they need to make sure that staff is OK with it.
  3. Companies should make sure they aren’t taking more credit than they deserve for the work they’re putting in or the money they’re donating.
  4. You can play it safe, but often employees do appreciate when their companies take a stand.

Do you agree with the Sprofessionals? Leave your take in the comments section.

RJ Joseph roasts coffee and writes a blog called Queer Cup in addition to her other adventures in coffee journalism. Her writing focuses primarily on equity, workers’ rights, and alternatives to the status quo. In her free time she loves cooking, reading, and being in Oakland, Calif. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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