May Day: Starbucks to Close for Racial Bias Employee Education


Starbucks 2015 Race Together platform

Three years ago Starbucks introduced “Race Together” as a way to spark a conversation around race in America. Elements included a content series with USA Today and conversational starters provided to partners (employees) to engage customers in topics around equality, diversity and the simmering tensions that had sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Starbucks employees also shared their own experiences in a townhall. One of the boldest efforts by a brand to use its platform to improve the state of race relations, what was intended to be a year-long platform was mocked by SNL and John Oliver and duly scrapped. Now some of those materials may be dusted off.

Fast-forward to this week when Starbucks, to its credit responding swiftly to the racially charged backlash over the arrest of two black men at one of its locations in Philadelphia, announced Tuesday that it will close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for several hours next month to conduct racial-bias training for its nearly 175,000 workers.

“I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution. 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.”

All Starbucks company-owned retail stores and corporate offices will be closed in the afternoon of Tuesday, May 29. During that time, partners will go through a training program designed to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.

“The company’s founding values are based on humanity and inclusion,” said executive chairman Howard Schultz, who joined Johnson and other senior Starbucks leaders in Philadelphia to meet with community leaders and Starbucks partners. “We will learn from our mistakes and reaffirm our commitment to creating a safe and welcoming environment for every customer.”

Starbucks announces racial bias training

The curriculum will be developed with guidance from several national and local experts confronting racial bias, including 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, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. Starbucks will involve these experts in monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the measures it undertakes.

Earlier this week, Starbucks began a review of its training and practices to make important reforms where necessary to ensure its stores always represent the brand’s Mission and Values by providing a safe and inclusive environment for our customers and partners. Once completed, the company will make the education materials available to other companies, including licensee partners, for use with their employees and leadership.