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Starbucks to Close 8,000 US Stores for Racial Tolerance Training

Starbucks also said that it will provide training material for workers at roughly 6,000 cafes not operated by it.

Published
World
3 min read
 Image used for representational purposes.
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Starbucks Corp will close 8,000 company-owned US cafes for an afternoon on 29 May, so that 1,75,000 of its 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 an an announcement on Tuesday, 17 April, that it will also provide training material 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.
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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 materialise, 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 shuttered on 29 May, but 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, race relations in the US have proven more challenging, even for a company that boasts a diverse workforce.

Minorities account for 18 percent of Starbucks executives with a title of senior vice president or higher, and 43 percent for overall employees.

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 in Philadelphia on Thursday, 12 April, and took personal responsibility for the incident, which was captured in a customer video that was shared widely.

Starbucks attorneys said Johnson and the men, who were released without charges, 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."

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The manager who is believed to have made that call, no longer works for Starbucks.

In a subsequent 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.

"It's good that Starbucks is giving all staff race trainings on 29 May. But let's not lose sight of the real problem which is police accountability," Tiffany Dena Loftin, director of the youth and college division at NAACP, told Reuters.

(This article has been published in an arrangement with Reuters)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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