NEW YORK — Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on Wednesday defended the company’s new “Race Together” campaign that has been criticized for being naive and even using racial tensions to boost its bottom line.

The chain will have workers write “Race Together” on cups. Starbucks also plans to start publishing “conversation guides” on the topic, asking “How have your racial views evolved from those of your parents?”

During its annual meeting in Seattle, Schultz said: “Some in the media will criticize Starbucks for having a political agenda. Our intentions are pure.”

The campaign is the latest example of a big company trying to tie its brands to big social issues. The move comes as consumer brands acknowledge that customers are drawn to companies that project a feel-good image or embrace social causes.

But the Starbucks’ campaign was still widely ridiculed on social media.

Schultz said he didn’t think Starbucks would solve the country’s “centuries old problems of racism” but that he thinks it can make a difference. He said workers don’t have to participate, and that stores will make customers another drink or cover up cups if they don’t like the message.

Inserting itself into national issues is not new territory for Starbucks.

In late 2012, the chain asked workers to write “Come together” on cups to send a message to lawmakers about stalled budget negotiations. And in 2013, the chain placed newspaper ads saying that guns were not welcome in its cafes.

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