Corporate Social Responsibility has been a significant global business trend for the past decade. One cannot, of course, read the minds of the leaders of a corporation and discover their innermost thought; once can only look at position statements and think about what factors might influence choices.
First, a corporation, despite having legal existence as an entity per se, consists of people, and many of the founders and leaders of Starbucks may have a personal sense of social responsibility.
Second, the demographic to which Starbucks appeals (note that it was founded in Seattle) is concerned with green consumerism, and thus it is a good marketing strategy,
Third, if companies think in the long term, things like global poverty and climate change can disrupt supply chains and are generally bad for business. The more people can be lifted out of poverty, the more people can afford Starbucks coffee.
It is difficult to parse intent in businesses social obligations. There is good being done. There is powerful publicity, good publicity, in such good being done. It becomes difficult to fully ascertain if the motivation is the former or the latter. In the end, I do believe that Starbucks takes some level of pride in ensuring that social responsibility is so much a part of its brand. CEO Howard Schulz recognizes the fundamental importance of being able to say "The value of your company is driven by your company's values." There is importance, bottom line importance, attached to such a statement:
Whatever their origins, companies assume a socially responsible posture in order to sell products, said John Boatright, professor of business ethics at Loyola University Chicago.
Certainly, this is a part of why Starbucks has been as driven as it has been with social responsibility. In an age where so much of capitalism is associated with brutal, savage, and immoral business practices, it reflects well for the company and the consumers who patronize it to be associated with so much in way of social responsibility and demonstrating the positive elements of businesses in the lives of its workers and communities. That being said, I think that Starbucks will have to balance the challenges that come with making sure it keeps its high level of ethical conduct at that bar. The challenge with being so concerned with social responsibility is that it ensures that one must constantly demonstrate this. In a challenging economic setting, that will make the precarious balance between corporate responsibility and profit making motives all the more challenging.