Starbucks staff undergo racial bias training

11 2018 A sign for Starbucks is seen on a street in New York City. Hector Retamal. AFP

Starbucks is following through on its promise to close more than 8,000 company-owned stores in the USA for racial bias and diversity training on Tuesday afternoon.

Last month, a white store manager at a Philadelphia-based Starbucks location called the police on two black men who were sitting in the store and had not yet purchased anything. The Seattle-based chain will shutter its company-owned locations and corporate offices within the United States to train its almost 175,000 employees.

Beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET, more than 8,000 company-owned stores across the nation will begin to close for the four hours of training. Most licensed shops, such as those in grocery stores or airports, will maintain normal hours. Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, Johnson and musician and activist Common will serve as virtual guides.

Stanley Nelson, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow and documentarian, made a short film called "You're Welcome".

"Well, I think like many people, it produced that same very familiar sinking feeling and anger, you know, first that the police were called for what was clearly a matter that did not require law enforcement, and then that these men were arrested by the police in that Starbucks". The customers said they were waiting for another man to arrive.

Which Starbucks locations are closed for bias training?

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Alexis McGill Johnson, Perception's co-founder and executive director, said anti-bias training is about awareness.

"Unconscious bias training programs at selected organisations alone will not reduce racial harassment and discrimination".

In the Philadelphia incident, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were asked to leave after one was denied access to the bathroom.

She added, "We won't be a rubber stamp" that gives the all-clear on bias in stores and other locations. If customers are disruptive, employees have been advised to step in. The coffee chain is asking customers to behave in a way that "maintains a warm and welcoming environment". The list of inappropriate behaviors includes smoking, using drugs or alcohol, sleeping or improperly using the restroom. "Starbucks' employees will continue to operate in an environment that reinforces racial disparities", they wrote.

Recognizing that there are many ways to deliver racial bias training, Starbucks has worked with advisers and experts to come up with a collaborative and engaging experience for store partners to learn together in a way that is right for the values and scale of the company.

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