Severe public outcry after a Starbucks manager called the police to remove two black men who were waiting on a friend in a Philadelphia store has forced the company to consider how it trains its employees about discrimination. In a press release Tuesday, CEO Kevin Johnson announced that Starbucks would be closing all 8,000 U.S. locations and offices May 29 to conduct mandatory “racial-bias education” for all 175,000 employees.
On 5/29, we'll close US company-owned stores to conduct racial-bias training to address implicit bias & prevent discrimination. We're taking a hard look at who we are as a company. We’re ashamed & recognize that racial bias is a problem we must address. https://t.co/xIYc75BJPj
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 17, 2018
Last week, a video posted to Twitter of two unnamed black men being arrested for supposedly “trespassing” at a Starbucks location sparked mass outrage, boycotts and protests at the store. Witnesses said that the two men were waiting for a third friend before ordering and asked to use the washroom but were told to leave by a white female manager. When the men explained their situation and questioned why they were not permitted to wait on their friend, the manager phoned the police who arrived and arrested the men. The trespassing charges were not approved by the District Attorney and the men were released early the next morning but the incident adds fire to the ongoing racial injustice debate.
Over the weekend, the Philadelphia Starbucks location was forced to close when protests made it impossible to do business. Activists called for the company and others to take action against the racial biases that dominate Western society. These education programs are the company’s response.
“I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” Johnson said in the statement, “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being part of the solution.”
According to the announcement, the focus of the education program will be “to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.”
The training day’s curriculum is being developed “with guidance from several national and local experts confronting racial bias” and will be shared with other companies after May 29. The experts being consulted include leaders from the Equal Justice Initiative, the NAACP and former Attorney General Eric Holder (who might be running for president).
While the training may have a positive effect on perspectives, people are not overly impressed by the gesture. It’s better than nothing, but it will take more than a day of training to really address and interrogate racial discrimination.
So Starbucks are closing for a day of racial bias training? It’s not something I’m going to applaud BUT it is better than an empty social media sorry statement. Other companies/institutions should follow suit tbh.
— Tobi Oredein (@IamTobiOredein) April 18, 2018
If you have racial-bias, a few hours of corporate training will not fix that. Good try though.
— NYC EMS Watch (@NYCEMSwatch) April 17, 2018
Howard Shultz was one of the 1st corporate leaders who made addressing social issues a priority.
It’s ironic to see @Starbucks facing this kind of controversy.
If anyone is going to turn this situation into a learning opportunity that could benefit us, it’s him https://t.co/tNurT9znuE
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) April 18, 2018
There’s also the concern that closing only American stores and educating American employees implies that the problem of racial profiling is exclusively American. While American incidents of racial injustice are more publicized and more often fatal, it cannot be ignored that racism is present everywhere and should be addressed in the same way.
Wondering what it means/says that @Starbucks is closing its more than 8000 U.S. stores for training on 5/29, but not worldwide. Are they saying the problem/need for training is distinctly American?
— Michael Smerconish (@smerconish) April 18, 2018