Seattle-based coffeehouse chain Starbucks has announced it will keep 8,000 stores in the United States closed on May 29 afternoon so that 1,75,000 employees can undergo racial tolerance training. The move comes in response to protests and calls for boycotts after the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia outlet of Starbucks.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the company said it will also provide training materials for non-company workers at the roughly 6,000 licensed Starbucks cafes that will remain open in locations such as grocery stores and airports.
The row last week erupted when a Starbucks employee reported this to the Philadelphia police — “two gentlemen in my cafe are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” The manager who is believed to have made that call, no longer works for Starbucks. In a subsequent call, an unidentified man said a “group of males” was “causing a disturbance” that required backup and a supervisor.
The Rittenhouse Square area of Philadelphia, where two African-American men were arrested at a Starbucks cafe last week, has gentrified in recent years
The problem started when the men asked for the code needed to use the bathroom and were told it was only available for paying customers.
Philadelphia’s police commissioner over the weekend defended the arrests, saying his officers had to act after Starbucks employees told them the pair were trespassing.
The arrests were followed by protests which led to a brief shutdown of the Philadelphia outlet amid protesters calling the coffee chain “anti black”. There was outrage across social media as well with several tweeting their opposition to the ‘racial profiling’.
The controversy will hurt Starbucks as the coffee chain takes pride in its diverse workforce. Minorities account for 18 per cent of Starbucks’ executives with the title of senior vice president or higher and 43 per cent of employees overall.
(With Reuters inputs)