Starbucks to close 8,000 US stores for racial-bias training


Dominic Rushe and agencies

Starbucks has moved to try to resolve the uproar over the arrest of two black men at one of its stores, announcing plans to close more than 8,000 US stores for several hours next month to conduct racial-bias training for its nearly 175,000 workers.

The announcement came after the arrests last week in Philadelphia sparked protests and calls for a boycott. The two men were arrested for “trespassing” while they were waiting for a friend in the store.

Starbucks said the stores and corporate offices will be closed on the afternoon of 29 May while it gives training to staff.

Starbucks’ chief executive, Kevin Johnson, condemned the arrests, calling them “reprehensible”, and said he wanted to apologize to the men face-to-face.

Starbucks has come under fire before. In 2015, the then CEO, Howard Schultz, launched a campaign in which baristas stuck labels that read “Race Together” on coffee cups to try to spark a dialogue about race.

The campaign caught fire on social media and was condemned for being superficial and ill-conceived. Schultz confessed he was surprised at the level of “visceral hate and contempt for the company, and for me personally” it provoked.

Starbucks has continued to champion progressive causes in the workplace. Last month, it claimed it had achieved 100% pay equity across gender and race for all its US employees, and committed to doing the same for its overseas operations, an initiative publicly backed by equality activist and tennis legend Billie Jean King.

Communications experts said such policies meant Starbucks had to hold itself to high standards in all its stores.

Jacinta Gauda, the head of the Gauda Group, a New York strategic communications firm, said: “The more your brand is trying to connect emotionally to people, the more hurt people feel when these kinds of things happen. They are breaking a promise. That’s what makes it hurt deeper.”

John Gordon, a restaurant industry analyst with Pacific Management Consulting Group, said Starbucks has a reputation for well-managed stores, “a point of difference that allows them to sell primarily drinks and coffees that have a higher cost”.

But in a multinational company with more than 28,000 stores worldwide, Gordon said: “[There has] to be a situation every day where some human being handles things wrong. You can’t have that many employees and not have something stupid happen. Even with a huge operations manual that lays out what to say and what to do, you can’t cover everything.”

Starbucks also touts the diversity of its workforce. It says minority Americans comprise more than 40% of the company’s US employees.

Those efforts are in stark contrast to the video that went viral over the weekend, which showed the two black men being arrested by police who were called by an employee. Officials said police officers were told the men had asked to use the store’s restroom but were denied because they hadn’t bought anything and they refused to leave. A Starbucks spokeswoman said on Tuesday that the employee no longer works at the store, but declined to give further details.

Gauda warned Starbucks against treating Philadelphia as a one-off affair, and urged the company to investigate whether there were any warning signs.

“I would suspect that this particular issue is something that has occurred before,” Gauda said. “The company is in crisis mode now, but they should not look at this as an isolated issue.”

Associated Press contributed to this article



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