Starbucks are closing for anti-bias training: What you need to know

Anna Jefferson
May 29, 2018

A simultaneous training session for 175,000 employees, across more than 8,000 stores: That's what Starbucks is doing today, urging its workers and managers to discuss racial bias and respect, in the wake of two black men being arrested in a Philadelphia store last month.

Starbucks committed to the training after a Philadelphia cafe manager's call to police resulted in the arrests of two black men who were waiting for a friend. The Seattle-based chain will shutter its company-owned locations and corporate offices within the United States to train its almost 175,000 employees. A sign at one store in Chicago says it's locking its doors at 2:30 p.m. and reopening on Wednesday, for instance.

Each store will receive a tool kit which will allow for partners to learn together in small self-guided groups.

In an open letter to Starbucks customers released this morning, the coffee giants' executive chairman Howard Schultz called the training the beginning of a "new chapter in our history".

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The training session also features a film by Stanley Nelson, director of the documentary Freedom Riders.

Analysts say Starbucks can ill afford the bad publicity at a time of growing competition in a coffee industry which has seen a number of rivals bought out or merged.

According to a video previewing the Starbucks training, there will be recorded remarks from Starbucks executives and rapper/activist Common. The NAACP's Sherrilyn Ifill, who is one of Starbucks's advisors on its anti-bias training material, has previously noted that "this can't be a one-off".

The training will include "a conversation and learning session on race, bias and the building of a diverse welcoming company".

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The company has settled privately with the two men after the incident in a Philadelphia store on April 12 and will try to draw a line under the row with a day of workshops in traditionally slow afternoon hours which Wall Street analysts say will only cost it US$5-US$7 million in lost business.

Starbucks has already made some policy changes to address bias at the chain.

A guide advises staff to consider whether the actions they take would apply to any customer in the same situation. "Starbucks' employees will continue to operate in an environment that reinforces racial disparities", they wrote.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request to clarify whether Tuesday's training will offer more advice or training to employees on how to maintain the new policy. If so, employees are instructed to approach the customer and respectfully ask him or her to cease the offensive action while another employee watches.

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