Starbucks will close all of its more than 8,000 US 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' top officials called last month's arrests of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson at a downtown Philadelphia store "reprehensible", apologized to them and vowed to turn their ordeal into a learning experience for all its employees. The session will take place in stores and offices and about 8,000 company-owned stores will close for the event.
On Long Island, most company-owned stores will close for the day between 2 and 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday and reopen Wednesday morning, according to the Starbucks website. About 7,000 licensed stores, including those in hotels, universities, grocery stores and airports, will be open. Workers at each location will break into small groups to learn together.
Starbucks co-founder Howard Schultz will appear in a video to address employees, as well as other top executives such as chief executive Kevin Johnson.
"What surprised me was the willingness of Starbucks to see the importance of creating a film that describes this issue as a broader civil rights issue", said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, on the conference call to talk about the training.
Each store will get a tool kid to help guide the trainings, the company explained. In addition to announcing the racial sensitivity training, Starbucks also overhauled its store policy to prevent similar incidents. The men had sat down to await a business meeting, and were asked to leave after one was denied access to the bathroom.More news: Northern Ireland abortion reforms 'a test of May's feminism'
The training, which will be provided to approximately 175,00 employees across the country, is in response to public outcry following a recent racial incident at a store in Philadelphia, Penn.
Corporate America began to embrace anti-bias training after the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Ifill and McGhee, who both served as unpaid advisers, told reporters on a media call on Thursday that they think Starbucks' plan is ambitious.
The company said it will release training materials to the public next week, so others can use it. If so, employees are instructed to approach the customer and respectfully ask him or her to cease the offensive action while another employee watches.
"One of the things Starbucks has to wrestle with is how to incorporate this kind of training into the onboarding of every employee", Ifill said.