Starbucks (SBUX) said on Tuesday it would close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for a few hours next month to give employees racial-bias training as the coffee shop giant looks to contain the fallout stemming from the arrest this weekend of two black men while they waited at a Philadelphia location.
The company said it will provide the training to prevent racial discrimination to 175,000 employees across the United States on the afternoon of May 29 in stores and at its Seattle headquarters, and incorporate it into the training of all future new employees. The curriculum will be developed in consultation with a number of prominent African American organizations and figures including Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The two men at the center of the incident were waiting inside the Starbucks location for a white friend on Thursday but did not order anything and were asked to leave. The police were then called and arrested them. In a video posted to Twitter, other customers complained that the two men hadn’t done anything wrong. The arrests prompted protests and calls to boycott Starbucks.
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has apologized profusely for the incident, a major black eye for a company that paints itself as espousing progressive values and which famously caused a controversy in 2015 when it sought to foster discussions of racial matters between its baristas and customers, an idea it quickly dropped. Johnson said of the episode in a video response posted Sunday, “This is not who we are, and it’s not who we’re going to be. We are going to learn from this and we will be better for it.” He has since met with the two men.
“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 a statement on Tuesday. “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution. Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey.”
The training will aim to look at implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure staff makes everyone inside a Starbucks store feel safe and welcome, Starbucks said. The company will make the training materials available to other companies.