Starbucks is closing thousands of stores across the U.S. on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct “racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores,” the company said in a statement.
The coffeeshop chain has been criticized and protested against after two black men were arrested last week at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, where they were quietly waiting to meet someone. Starbucks employees called 911 after one of the men, who had not yet purchased anything, asked to use the bathroom, and then remained at the shop.
Other customers recorded the arrest, and protested that the men hadn’t done anything wrong. They pointed out that white customers were allowed to sit without buying anything without being handcuffed.
Starbucks has apologized for the incident, and CEO Kevin Johnson said he had a “goal of doing whatever we can to make things right,” and promised “any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.”
On Monday, Johnson met with the two men who were arrested.
“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 company 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 that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.”
Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ executive chairman and former CEO who guided the company’s explosive growth, added, “The company’s founding values are based on humanity and inclusion. We will learn from our mistakes and reaffirm our commitment to creating a safe and welcoming environment for every customer.”
The closure and the training will affect more than 8,000 company-owned stores; licensed stores, such as those inside Target stores or other larger businesses, will get access to the training materials after it is over, Starbucks says.
The company continues:
“The curriculum will be developed with guidance from several national and local experts confronting racial bias, 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; Heather McGhee, president of [liberal think tank] Demos; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.”
Rosalind Brewer, the COO of Starbucks, spoke with NPR on Monday. She said watching the video of the arrest was painful.
“As an African-American executive myself with a 23-year-old African-American son, it was very difficult to watch. The police should not have been called in this situation. And this is a teachable moment for all of us. And we take full responsibility to make sure that our company remains great,” she said.
“Unconscious bias training is critical and top of our list.”