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Starbucks to Shut Down All Stores in May for Racial-Bias Training

Starbucks will shut down all stores in the U.S. for several hours next month so workers can complete racial-bias training.

In response to the arrest of two black men in one of its Philadelphia stores, Starbucks announced that it is closing over 8,000 stores and corporate offices nation-wide on May 29 for training “designed to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.”

The company didn’t make many details available as it’s still in the process of developing the program. But the kind of training they have sought has become increasingly common in recent years as a way to confront implicit bias – negative stereotypes and attitudes people hold toward other groups without being aware of them. These trainings have been offered at other large companies like Microsoft and Facebook, police departments and jurors in federal court in Seattle.

“While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution,” said Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson, who immediately fly to Philadelphia to meet with the two arrested men and local civic leaders. “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.”

To be effective, the training cannot take place in a vacuum, argued Kimberly Kahn, a Portland State University professor who researches implicit-bias and has offered training and workshops for police departments in our region. It must also be accompanied with changes to policies and practices “to take away some of the ambiguity and discretion that might be happening in these situations,” she said.

Johnson, in his initial response to the Philadelphia arrests, acknowledged ambiguous corporate policies and “local practices” for when store employees should call police.

That ambiguity is reflected in the broad range of experiences people have shared on social media when asking to use a Starbucks bathroom without having made a purchase, for example. The two men in Philadelphia were reportedly asked to leave the store in similar circumstances, though they were waiting for a third person who arrived as police, called by the store manager, arrested them for trespassing. The men were released hours later without charges.

The company said it is undertaking a review of its training and practices, and plans “reforms where necessary” to ensure a “safe and inclusive environment for our customers and partners.”

Those policy changes could be more important than the training, said Rosalind Chow, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Starbucks said it plans to make the training part of its orientation process for new hires, and to measure its effectiveness with help from outside experts.

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