Starbucks closes 8,000 stores to give staff diversity training amid race storm

Coffee chain runs workshops for employees after coming under fire for arrest of two black men at Philadelphia branch in April

Tom Barnes
Tuesday 29 May 2018 16:47 BST
Starbucks staff call police to arrest two black men 'who didn't order anything'

Starbucks is set to close thousands of its shops for the day to conduct diversity training following the controversial arrest of two black men at one the chain’s stores.

The coffee giant will shut more than 8,000 of its locations across the US on Tuesday to run courses as it attempts to restore its image as a café welcoming of all customers.

Activists and experts have drawn up a “bias training” programme for the firm’s 175,000 workers, designed to encourage them to examine implicit biases they may hold when dealing with people of different ethnicities, genders or backgrounds.

The Perception Institute, a group consulting with Starbucks, defines implicit bias as a set of positive or negative stereotypes someone may hold towards a person or group without being conscious of it.

A common example highlighted by some studies, the institute says, is a tendency for white people to unknowingly associate black people with criminal behaviour.

Alexis McGill Johnson, Perception's co-founder and executive director, said anti-bias training is about awareness.

“The work that we want to do is not say you're a bad person because you have a stereotype about a group, but say this is why your brain may have these stereotypes,” she said.

Starbucks moved to offer training to its staff following an incident in April, in which two African American men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested at one of its Philadelphia stores.

The chain was forced to apologise over the incident, in which an employee called the police after the men asked to use the bathroom as they waited for a business meeting.

Officers later detained them for trespassing after they sat at a table without purchasing anything from the store.

Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson have since reached a settlement with Starbucks for an undisclosed sum and a promise from the company to set up a $200,000 (£150,000) programme for young entrepreneurs.

The firm has since said anyone can use their restrooms whether or not they have purchased anything.

According to a video previewing the Starbucks training, the programme will include recorded remarks from Starbucks executives, as well as rapper and activist Common.

From there, employees will “move into a real and honest exploration of bias” where, in small groups, they can share how the issue comes up in their daily work life.

Starbucks has described it as a “collaborative and engaging experience for store partners to learn together”.

However, not everyone is convinced the measures will prevent staff acting on any subliminal biases they may hold.

Calvin Lai, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, said the training may even have an adverse effect.

“We find that oftentimes diversity training has mixed effects,” he said: “In some cases it can even backfire and lead people who are kind of already reactive to these issues to become even more polarised.”

One afternoon wouldn't really be “moving the needle on the biases,” he added, especially at a company the size of Starbucks.

“A lot of those employees won't be here next year or two years or three years down the line,” he said.

Additional reporting by AP

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