Starbucks India’s recent spot is doing the rounds on social media and elsewhere. The beautifully poignant advertisement, set in an upmarket cafe, begins with an older man dialling a number with a display photo of a young man named Arpit. His wife asks him to not lose his temper. A young, well-dressed woman enters the establishment. She goes on to hug her mother and awkwardly tries to hug the father.

The daughter tells her father that despite not having met for years, he still means the world to her. He doesn’t respond but asks if she wants a coffee and goes to order it. The trio wait in silence. The cafe attendant calls out, “Three cold coffees for Arpita.” The father declares that the young woman remains his child – the change, after all, just involved adding one letter to her name. They hold hands across the table. The ad fades out with the jingle and a hashtag #ItStartsWithYourName.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I think anything be it an advertisement, a book, film, or TV serial that speaks about and normalises acceptance of marginalised identities be they queer, trans, disability – or even those that address issues of religious and caste tolerance and inter mingling, marriage, acceptance and inclusion – are sorely needed. In fact, they are the need of the hour.

However, when a transnational corporation that is not especially known for its social justice policies with regard to its own staff suddenly wishes to step into the fray to demonstrate their inclusive credentials, it makes me wonder. Let us be clear. In India those who frequent Starbucks and can afford their coffee are the so-called liberal, well-heeled, (largely) English-speaking elite or those who wish to be seen as such. As we know in India those who serve and work in coffee shops do not belong to the same class of people who frequent the same cafes. Unlike, say, in the Global north, where you may find a portion of the employees who may be university students who are supporting themselves by working part-time in retail industries, in India, the bulk of the employees belong to a completely different social and economic class (and caste).

This is an ad made for them, the consumers, to showcase Starbucks as perhaps a caring corporation that takes the core concern of their customers seriously. I think the time has come for us as consumers to tell corporations that they need to put their money where their mouth is and stop trying to school us the supposedly gullible into believing that such causes are anything but cynical ploys to sell yet another product. We have seen this, for example, with how the corporate world has made International Women’s day all about selling products to women rather than what it was about originally: Working women’s rights.

Corporations worldwide should actually put their workers welfare and safety, happiness and well-being as core concerns and run campaigns that demonstrate fair living wage policies, inclusive hiring of diverse staff (disability, sexual orientation, gender) and enabling their employees to join unions. Perhaps then one could take their words and campaigns with some seriousness and buy their products with greater happiness knowing that their workforce was not being exploited.

In fact, had they even made an ad that spoke of their inclusive hiring policies with a focus on trans employees, it might have spoken better than this one, which in the end reads as a cynical attempt made by yet another neo-liberal corporation trying to score brownie points while trying to make even more of a profit by selling yet another cup of very expensive coffee.

Radha Khan is an independent consultant working in the field of gender, governance and social inclusion,