MA Research Paper

Title

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY & WOKEWASHING

Degree

Master of Arts

Program

Sociology

Supervisor

Scott Schaffer

Abstract

This qualitative case analysis of Starbucks (US) Coffee Company seeks to develop an understanding of corporations and their engagement in social activism, through the use of “wokewashing” advertisements, to identify the consequences that result from corporations becoming involved in activism related to marginalized identities. Generally, this inquiry is concerned with how corporate wokewashing creates ideas of “legitimate” victims. The objective of this research is to contribute to pre-existing literature that speaks to the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) by introducing wokewashing as an evolutionary practice of this concept, and one that reinforces Peter Drucker’s (1984) conceptualization of CSR. Given such an objective, I propose two research questions attending specifically to Starbucks, inquiring: Does Starbucks use wokewashing relating to marginalized identities as a method to promote their brand? And if so, who is their focus? The theoretical framework used here was that of Becker's "Moral Entrepreneurship" (1963), and a grounded theory analysis of 366 Starbucks Facebook posts over five years (2014-2019) were examined to assess how and to what extent our research questions transpire online. Data were analyzed using Microsoft Excel, coded by themes relating to brand promotion: product advertisement, community relations, employee relations, disaster relief, and wokewashing. Findings reveal that Starbucks (US) engages in wokewashing with a focus on marginalized sexual identities (LGBTQ+), and implications are discussed. This paper concludes with an effort to situate this conversation within a pragmatic understanding of corporate behaviour and emphasize the inherent self-interest that drives corporate behaviour.

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