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Starbucks CEO starts petition against government shutdown

The Starbucks logo hangs on a window inside a newly designed Starbucks coffee shop in Fountain Valley, California August 22, 2013. REUTERS/M
The Starbucks logo hangs on a window inside a newly designed Starbucks coffee shop in Fountain Valley, California August 22, 2013. REUTERS/M

By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp plans to circulate petitions to customers across the United States urging lawmakers to reopen the partially closed government and avoid a looming default, the coffee chain's CEO Howard Schultz said on Thursday.

Schultz said he was acting because of a "sad and striking realization that the American people have no platform with which to voice their frustration and outrage" over the shutdown, which began last week after Democrats rejected Republican efforts to undercut the Affordable Care Act.

The "voluntary, non-partisan" petition asks Congress and the White House to reopen the government, pay U.S. debts on time, and pass a long-term bipartisan budget deal by the end of the year.

Copies will be available in Starbucks stores, online, and in tear-out ads due to run on Friday in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Washington Post. From this Friday through the weekend, people can take a signed petition to a Starbucks store or sign it in a store. They can also sign the petition online.

Schultz also sent letters on Thursday morning to business leaders, encouraging them to sign onto his initiative. He said that he had spoken with leaders of half of the 30 companies listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and "every CEO I spoke to shared my concern and my outrage about the situation in Washington."

Schultz would not specify which companies he had contacted.

In addition, Schultz said he had talked to the White House, to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and to Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the chairpersons of the Senate and House Budget committees in charge of negotiations over the federal debt limit.

"It was apparent to me that we are on a collision course with time. That is why we made the decision to proceed" Schultz said, of those discussions.

Schultz, one of the most prominent CEOs in the United States, said he was acting primarily as an American citizen, not an executive whose company's profits rely heavily on consumer confidence and spending.

"I'm not doing this because of the business angle," Schultz said.

Still, in times of extreme political dysfunction, "the responsibility of a company of any kind is changing because we have to provide for employees, help the communities we serve, and obviously, the government is not providing the leadership it once did."

"In this case we're leveraging the sense of community among our customers and providing a vehicle for their voices to be heard," Schultz added.

The White House has a similar online petition platform called We the People. Launched by the Obama administration in 2011, it guarantees responses to petitions that accrued 100,000 signatures within 30 days.

That site is currently offline, a casualty of the far-reaching shutdown that has closed down national parks, forced federal employees into furloughs, and halted the issuance of benefits to the poor.

HISTORY OF INVOLVEMENT

Schultz, a registered Democrat, is not the only business leader speaking out against the shutdown. Around 250 business groups sent a letter to lawmakers on Monday pleading with them to fund the government and raise the debt limit while cutting entitlement spending.

Big business, which often sides with the Republican party, has found itself marginalized by conservative groups opposed to compromise in the country's current fiscal crisis. Companies fear that a prolonged shutdown and subsequent default would have a catastrophic effect on the U.S. economy.

Schultz is typically more outspoken on political issues than his fellow executives. During the battle over raising the debt ceiling in August 2011, Schultz called for Americans to stop making political contributions until lawmakers struck a bipartisan deal on the country's debt, revenue and spending.

He has not made a contribution since and says this is unlikely to change in the future.

After a series of mass shootings across the country, Schultz wrote an open letter to Starbucks customers in September, asking them to voluntarily stop bringing their firearms into its stores.

Schultz says Starbucks shareholders have not complained about his sometimes polarizing outspokenness because the company has shown it is a "a performance-driven company through the lens of humanity."

(Reporting By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian; Editing by Jilian Mincer and Andrew Hay)

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