Starbucks to close over 8,000 stores for anti-bias training

Starbucks will close more than 8,000 of its stores nationwide on Tuesday afternoon for a specialized employee training on anti-bias, the next of many steps the company is taking to try to restore its tarnished image as a hangout where all are welcome.

The closing time will be between 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Some Starbucks locations will remain closed for the rest of the day and reopen on Wednesday. Most of its "licensed stores," such as those operated by major grocery stores, university campuses, malls, hotels and airports, are expected to remain open, Starbucks says. You will need to check with your local Starbucks location for its store hours

After the arrests of two black men in Philadelphia last month at one of its stores, the coffee chain's leaders apologized and met with the two men, but also reached out to activists and experts in bias training to put together a curriculum for its 175,000 workers.

That has put a spotlight on the little-known world of "unconscious bias training," which is used by many corporations, police departments and other organizations to help address racism in the workplace. The training is typically designed to get people to open up about implicit biases and stereotypes in encountering people of color, gender or other identities.

Anti-bias sessions can incorporate personal reflections, explorations of feelings and mental exercises. But one expert says training of this kind can have the opposite effect if people feel judged.

According to a video previewing the Starbucks training, there will be recorded remarks from Starbucks executives and rapper/activist Common. From there, employees will "move into a real and honest exploration of bias" where, in small groups, they can share how the issue comes up in their daily work life.

Developed with feedback from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Perception Institute and other social advocacy groups, Tuesday's four-hour session will give workers a primer on the history of civil rights from the 1960s to present day. Workers will also view a short documentary film.

In the Philadelphia incident, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were asked to leave after one was denied access to the bathroom. They were arrested by police minutes after they sat down to await a business meeting. The incident was recorded by cellphones and went viral.

Nelson and Robinson settled with Starbucks this month for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free education. They also reached a deal with the city of Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from officials to establish a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.

Starbucks has since announced anyone can use its restrooms even if they are not buying anything. According to documents Starbucks sent to store workers, employees should also think carefully when dealing with disruptive customers. A guide advises staff to consider whether the actions they take would apply to any customer in the same situation. They should dial 911 only if the situation seems unsafe.

Starbucks said the arrests never should have occurred and announced the mass closures of its stores for the afternoon of training.

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AP Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio contributed to this report.

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