Starbucks to close all US stores on 29 May for ‘racial-bias education’

The move comes on the heels of the arrest of two black men who were waiting at a Philadelphia store 

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Tuesday 17 April 2018 20:02 BST
Starbucks staff call police to arrest two black men 'who didn't order anything'

Starbucks has said it will close all 8,000 of its US stores for the afternoon of 29 May while it conducts what it called “racial bias training” in light of the recent arrest of two black men who were waiting in one the coffee giant’s Philadelphia locations.

Late last week, the two men entered the store wanting to use the bathroom. An employee, whose identity has not been made public, called the police after they saw the men waiting at a table for a friend. without ordering anything. The two were then arrested for trespassing as their friend arrived, with video of it going viral. No formal charges were filed and the employee in question is no longer working at the store.

The training for the close to 175,000 employees nationwide has been “designed to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome”, a statement from the company read.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said: “Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.” He had also called the incident that had triggered the move “reprehensible” and met with the two men in Philadelphia to apologise in person.

Mr Johnson has not said if the employee was punished for her actions. “I’d like to have a dialogue with [the two black men arrested] so that I can ensure that we have the opportunity to really understand the situation and show some compassion and empathy for the experience they went through. Finally, as we’re working to solve this, I’d like to invite them to join me in finding a constructive way to solve this issue,” he told ABC.

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The incident also sparked protests outside of the store and on social media, where #BoycottStarbucks had been trending.

The training is going to be developed with assistance from civil rights experts like former US Attorney General Eric Holder, president of the NAACP Legal Defence and Education Fund Sherrilyn Ifill, Bryan Stevenson who is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, president of policy organisation Demos Heather McGhee, and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt. The panel of experts will also review measures after the training, according to the company statement.

“Earlier this week, Starbucks began a review of its training and practices to make important reforms where necessary to ensure our stores always represent our mission and values by providing a safe and inclusive environment for our customers and partners,” the company said.

The Seattle, Washington-based chain with 25,000 stores worldwide also said the training materials will also be made available for other firms to use.

Earlier this week, a Facebook video of a similar incident which took place at a Torrance, California location in January surfaced that showed a black man being asked to leave the store after complaining a white customer had been given the code to use the bathroom before ordering, but he had not. The company said it is aware of the video as well.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement that the city’s Commission on Human Relations will look into other reported instances at the Centre City area store.

“The PCHR has received informal complaints about the specific Starbucks location since the matter arose,” the commission said. “Any information regarding these complaints are part of our current investigation, and thus are deemed confidential.”

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