Starbucks to close all 8,000 company-owned US stores for racial tolerance training

All Starbucks-owned cafes will close for the afternoon on May 29, in the wake of a widely condemned incident that saw two black men arrested for waiting in a Philadelphia store

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 10:28am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 11:42am

Starbucks will close all 8,000 of its company-owned US cafes for an afternoon next month so 175,000 employees can undergo racial tolerance training in response to protests and calls for boycotts after the arrest of two black men waiting in a Philadelphia store.

The company said in the Tuesday announcement that it will also provide training materials for non-company workers at the roughly 6,000 licensed Starbucks cafes that will remain open in locations such as grocery stores and airports.

The announcement from world’s biggest coffee company comes as it tries to cool tensions after the Philadelphia incident last week sparked accusations of racial profiling at the chain, which is the subject of a boycott campaign on social media.

Video of last Thursday’s incident showed customers telling police the men were doing nothing wrong and appeared to have been targeted merely because of their race.

The controversy is the biggest public relations test yet for new Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson, who already was fighting to boost traffic to Starbucks amid competition from coffee sellers ranging from hipster cafes to fast-food chains and convenience stores.

“While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution,” said Johnson, a former technology executive who took the helm about a year ago.

Even if the threatened boycott does not happen, the 8,000 temporary store closures will almost certainly have an impact on sales. Starbucks did not say how many hours the stores would be shut on May 29, but the afternoon is the slowest time for Starbucks’ business.

Starbucks is one of the most high-profile and beloved brands in the world and its long-time CEO Howard Schultz was not one to shy away from difficult conversations over thorny issues such as gay marriage, gun control and Congressional gridlock.

However US race relations have proven more challenging, even for a company that touts its diverse workforce – minorities account for 18 per cent of Starbucks executives with the title of senior vice-president or higher and 43 per cent of employees overall.

For example, the company’s 2015 “Race Together” campaign to foster a conversation on the topic following the high-profile police shootings of several unarmed black men stirred an intense social media backlash.

Johnson has apologised for the “reprehensible” arrests of the two men and took personal responsibility for the incident, the video of which was shared widely online.

Starbucks lawyers said Johnson and the men, who were released without charge, have “engaged in constructive discussions about this issue as well as what is happening in communities across the country”.

Philadelphia Police late on Tuesday released the series of calls that led to their arrests.

It begins with a Starbucks employee reporting “two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave”. The manager who is believed to have made that call no longer works for Starbucks.

In another call, an unidentified man said a “group of males” was “causing a disturbance” that required backup and a supervisor.

Philadelphia’s police commissioner over the weekend defended the arrests, saying his officers had to act after Starbucks employees told them the pair were trespassing.