Starbucks will close all of its more than 8,000 USA stores for a portion of Tuesday afternoon so its employees can undergo racial bias and sensitivity training in the wake of a confrontation with two black customers at one of its Philadelphia locations.
Starbucks is closing its stores to conduct the training after the arrests of two black men in Philadelphia last month at one of its stores.
As a result, about 8,000 company-owned locations across the country will close early Tuesday.
In an open letter emailed to customers Tuesday morning, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz said "Starbucks will close stores and offices to discuss how to make Starbucks a place where all people feel welcome".
The plan covers only Starbucks-operated stores; almost all of the 7,000 Starbucks-licensed coffee shops - in places like supermarkets, hotels, and airports - are likely to remain open, the company says.
Workers will break into groups to undergo training.
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Protesters gather outside a Starbucks in Philadelphia, April 15, 2018, where two black men were arrested Thursday after Starbucks employees called police to say the men were trespassing.
Analysts say Starbucks can ill afford the bad publicity at a time of growing competition in a coffee industry which has seen a number of rivals bought out or merged.
This will mark only the second time that Starbucks has closed all locations for training efforts.
Alexis McGill Johnson, Perception's co-founder and executive director, said anti-bias training is about awareness. The men, who had previously asked for the code needed to use the store's bathroom, said they were waiting for a friend. "The respect should always be there", said Michelle Nunez-Armenta who is a student at Treasure Island Job Corps Center where she took implicit bias training. Social scientists have said these kinds of systematic and structural changes can help make lasting changes and ensure similar instances of racial bias seldom occur at the retail coffee chain. If customers are disruptive, employees are advised to step in. Starbucks is asking customers to behave in a way that "maintains a warm and welcoming environment". The list of inappropriate behaviors includes smoking, using drugs or alcohol, sleeping or improperly using the restroom.
Johnson said the real work is for employees to apply what they learn in their everyday lives. The last time the company did something similar was in 2008, when the struggling chain shut down all U.S. locations to retrain employees on improving the "Starbucks Experience" by boosting technical abilities and customer service - a decision that cost the chain $6 million.