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Report: Starbucks making systemwide changes following racial-bias incident

The coffee chain is changing employee training and the way it reports potentially dangerous in-store incidents, according to a just-released report it commissioned.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Starbucks is testing a new process that allows employees to report worrisome in-store incidents electronically, instead of over the phone, to speed the time it takes to get help to a store.

That’s one of several changes underway at the Seattle-based coffee giant in the wake of a racially charged incident last spring at a Philadelphia unit that made international headlines, according to a Starbucks-commissioned report on the chain’s progress.

Starbucks has furthered its efforts toward diversity and inclusion since the racially charged incident at a Philadelphia store that made international headlines last spring, the report found.

But the coffee giant can still take significant steps toward making its stores a welcoming “third place” community free from bias, according to the lengthy analysis released this week by legal firm Covington & Burling LLP, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

“Starbucks’ efforts following their arrests demonstrate that companies can play an important leadership role in addressing racial bias and, in doing so, help realize equality in public spaces for all Americans,” Holder wrote in the report. “To be clear, racial bias in public accommodations is not simply Starbucks’ problem. It is an American problem.”

Starbucks will pilot a store manager training program this spring to better handle “disruptive customer situations,” according to the report. The technology-based training will include real-time scenarios. After the pilot program, Starbucks plans to extend the training across more units.

The company is also currently testing a program in which additional staff and training are provided to units in which “disruptive behaviors” happen most frequently, the report said.

Since the Philadelphia incident, Starbucks has updated all of its policy and training manuals to emphasize the company’s commitment to “diversity and inclusion,” the report said.

The study’s authors reviewed all of Starbucks’ current policies, practices and initiatives relating to civil rights, equity, diversity and inclusion. In compiling it, the writers held discussions with Starbucks leadership as well as with store-level employees and managers in cities around the country.

Starbucks should incorporate anti-bias training into its onboarding process for new employees, the report recommends, as well as continue to monitor and implement anti-bias policies.

Among the report’s other recommendations, Starbucks should:

  • Make it easier for employees to find information regarding discrimination and harassment policies.
  • Expand harassment-prevention training.
  • Provide additional staff and training at stores where “disruptive behaviors” occur most often.

A new training module for Starbucks’ employees, focusing on community building and self-care, will be released at the end of the month. The company is planning additional training for executive leadership and a new curriculum for all employees, according to the report.

Last April, two African-American men were accused by a manager of trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks. Their arrest sparked widespread outcry and led to the country’s largest coffee chain closing all of its 8,200 company-owned locations in the U.S. for a half-day diversity training session last May.

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