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Starbucks will close stores to provide racial-bias training to 175,000 US employees

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Starbucks is reacting to the arrests of two black for trespassing men inside one of its stores. (Dreamstime)

SEATTLE — In response to the arrest of two black men in one of its Philadelphia stores, Starbucks said Tuesday it will provide nearly 175,000 employees with “racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores.”

The company will close the more than 8,000 Starbucks locations it owns in the U.S. for the afternoon on May 29 to conduct the training.

Executive Chairman Howard Schultz joined Chief Executive Kevin Johnson in Philadelphia this week to meet with community leaders and the two men involved in the incident, a session the company and the men’s lawyer described as constructive. Johnson apologized in person and talked with the men “about how this painful incident can become a vehicle for positive social change,” the company and the lawyer said in a joint statement.

In a separate announcement, Johnson detailed the store closures and training.

“While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution,” Johnson said. “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.”

In a statement, Schultz said Starbucks’ “founding values are based on humanity and inclusion.”

Last week, a store manager asked the men to leave the Philadelphia store after they had asked to use the bathroom without having made a purchase. They were waiting to meet a third person. The store manager called police, who arrested the men for trespass. They were not charged.

During the May 29 training, Starbucks employees — which the company calls partners — will receive training “designed to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome,” according to a Starbucks news release.

The company said the curriculum for the training is being developed with help from Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Heather McGhee, president of Demos; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; and Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League.

The company says it will make the training materials it develops available to other companies, including businesses that license the Starbucks brand to operate stores. In its Americas business segment, including the U.S., Starbucks had 9,525 company-operated stores at the end of 2017. Another 6,764 stores were operating under a license from the company.

Starbucks conducted a similar closure of all its U.S. stores on the evening of Feb. 26, 2008, to retrain employees on “the art of espresso.” That initiative came shortly after Schultz again assumed the chief executive role and was meant to “reinvigorate” the company and the store experience in the face of flagging sales and competition from McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.

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