Why your local Starbucks will close on May 29

Starbucks will close all its company-owned coffee shops in the U.S.and its corporate offices during the afternoon of May 29 to conductracial-bias training foremployeesfollowing the arrest oftwo African-American men at one of its locations in Philadelphia last week.

The anti-discrimination training at themore than 8,000 company-ownedshops is “designed to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome,” according to the company announcementTuesday.

Nearly 175,000 employees in the U.S. will receive the training.

The Seattle-based chain has come under fire after staff at thePhiladelphia locationcalled the police on the two men when they didn’t buy anything and asked to use the restrooms.

The two men were told restrooms were for paying customers only. Theyexplained they were waiting for a friend, who arrived later. Police arrested them, though Starbucks didn’t press charges.

The CEO has apologized for Thursday’s incident, and on Mondaythe coffee giant confirmedthe Philadelphia employee who called the policeno longer is with Starbucks.

“While this is not limited to Starbucks, were committed to being a part of the solution,” CEO Kevin Johnsonsaid. “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.”

The curriculum will be developed with help from national and local experts, includingformer U.S. attorney general Eric Holder;SherrilynIfill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund;Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Heather McGhee, president of the public-policy organizationDemos; and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

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According to Starbucks, that group of expertswill also help review “the effectiveness of the measures” the company undertakes.

“Earlier this week, Starbucks began a review of its training and practices to make important reforms where necessary to ensure our storesalways represent our mission and valuesby providinga safe and inclusive environment forour customers and partners,” the company said.

According to Starbucks, the racial-bias training materials will be made available to other companies to use.

The coffee chain did not explain how customers can find outif their local Starbucks is company-owned.

Starbucks also didn’t respondto requests for details about the racial-bias training,like whether it would be taught by on-site instructors or via video hook-ups, what thecomponents of the instructionwill be, whether it’llbe available in languages other than Englishand why it’s being offered only in the U.S..

Crisis-management experts said this Starbucks action is spot-on.

“They’ve been in a free-fall with a dangerous, devastating body blow to a brand that is used to taking bows,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants in Los Angeles. “When you’re rebuilding credibility,actions speak.People are already skeptical. They discount a lot of words.”

Starbucks stands to lose at least $15 million in sales from the afternoon closures, estimatesRichard Levick, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based strategic communications firm Levick.

“Kevin Johnsonmoves into the pantheon with Jim Burke ofJohnson & Johnson,” he said, referring to the drug company CEO who was universally lauded for his handling of the Tylenol cyanide poisonings in 1982.

But some people wonder how much of a change the racial-bias training will makeand how much of the announcement was to generate goodPR.

“I’m quite sure itll happen again even with the training, because its the way people are perceived, but it cant hurt,” said Calvin Alexander Ramsey, a playwright and author who has dealt with racial bias in his work.”Im quite sure some folks will get promoted becauseof this.”

He said as an African-American man, he plans to buy his coffee from somewhere other than Starbucks temporarily “out of solidarity” with the two men who were arrested.

“It got to a pointwhere (Starbucks)had to do something,” he continued. “It probably was overdue, but sometimes what we consider racism is just bad customer service.”

But, hesaid,”anytime you call the police to confront black men, it could be a life-or-death situation. That’s what people are reacting to.”

CLOSE

Starbucks customers around the country are boycotting the coffee chain after two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store after an employee called police on them. USA TODAY

Follow USA TODAY reporter Zlati Meyer on Twitter: @ZlatiMeyer

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