The company says its day of training was only the beginning.
Today, over 8,000 Starbucks stores around the country closed their doors at around 2 p.m. to conduct a training session meant to educate employees on the concept and repercussions of racial bias. The massive undertaking is the result of Starbucks' reaction to the arrest of two black men in Philadelphia store who a manager accused of loitering while the men were waiting to meet a business associate. The incident sparked protests and calls for a boycott and opened up a national conversation about the how minorities are seen and treated by employees and other customers. The company apologized to the arrested men and announced the May 29 training session shortly thereafter.
In an open letter to customers posted online today, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz said the manager who called the police did not act in the spirit of the company's policies and clarified what the training session hoped to address. "More than 175,000 Starbucks partners (that’s what we call our employees) will be sharing life experiences, hearing from others, listening to experts, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and talking about how all of us create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong—because they do. This conversation will continue at our company and become part of how we train all of our partners," Schultz wrote. "Discussing racism and discrimination is not easy, and various people have helped us create a learning experience that we hope will be educational, participatory and make us a better company. We want this to be an open and honest conversation starting with our partners. We will also make the curriculum available to the public."
The arrest wasn't an isolated incident for Starbucks, either. In January, a black man claimed he was denied access to the bathroom while a white customer, who also had not purchased anything, was given the code the enter. In another, more recent incident, a Latino customer was handed a cup with a racial slur written on it. The company has apologized for that as well. Beyond shuttering stores for an afternoon to conduct training on racial bias awareness, Starbucks also changed its policy to redefine "customers" crossing the threshold of a Starbucks store, regardless of their intent to purchase. That open door policy includes use of the chain's bathroom facilities and solidifies its aim to be a "third place" that all people, paying customers or not, are allowed to assemble.
After today's training took place, Starbucks released a statement saying the company plans to continue discussing racial bias and "will deepen its diversity and inclusion efforts in the months ahead, focusing on the cultural evolution of the company and sharing lessons learned with leaders everywhere who can benefit." Those efforts include releasing the curriculum to the public, further training sessions on "understanding bias, inclusion, use of the third place, leadership, among other topics," the company's attendance at "a convening this summer, hosted by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights" to learn how to "address other forms of bias and how companies can best implement these lessons," and lastly, continued consultations with advocacy groups. The statement also clarifies the company's stance that "May 29 is one step in a long-term journey."