That Starbucks harbors classist attitudes against hard-working hobos and even harder-working Starbucks employees has been well-documented. Now a French anti-racism group has accused the universally beloved coffee chain of decorating its outlets in France with anti-pickpocketing posters that "targeted a minority."
According to UPI, members of the organization SOS Racisme believe that Starbucks' new poster, which warned people to watch for "unusual behavior" and to not "let pickpockets spoil your moment of relaxation at Starbucks, and which "featured a man with dark skin surrounded by arrows pointing to various objects," suggests that brown-skinned people pickpocket. Based on this interpretation, SOS demanded removal of the posters.
Starbucks complied with the request. But should it have? As The Local points out, the pickpocketing poster campaign includes a "white, brown-haired woman" version, her head similarly surrounded by arrows pointing to valuables. Furthermore, a Starbucks spokesperson explained that the people depicted in the drawings were customers, not thieves. That argument seems credible enough: Except for the race and sex of the people depicted, and a variation of the text, the posters are almost exactly the same. And both the man and the woman are smiling, which suggests that they've just experienced a satisfying Starbucks beverage.
On the other hand, given the somewhat ambiguous message of the posters, it's understandable that people might misinterpret them—especially if each outlet posted only one version or the other. It's unlikely that the posters were hung side-by-side, like how we're seeing them.
Can Starbucks warn its French customers about pickpocketers without being racist? Probably. But all French people should probably keep in mind that posters won't actually do much to protect you from pickpocketers, so it's probably best to avoid Starbucks altogether.