NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores for several hours Tuesday afternoon for employee anti-bias training.
The move came as the coffee giant reviews its policies and works to restore its reputation after the arrest of two black men at a location in Philadelphia back in April, reports CBS2’s Janelle Burrell.
Starbucks has since told its employees to let anyone use its restrooms and sit in its cafes, even if they haven’t purchased anything.
Up to 175,000 Starbucks employees were expected to participate in the training, which included a video presentation and curriculum created by diversity experts.
Team members broke into small groups to talk about their own experience and watched a film about bias. Participants also learned more about the history of discrimination in the United States and heard from company leaders through virtual training.
“It would be great if more companies did that. I mean, only good things can happen from that,” one woman told CBS2’s Marc Liverman.
“I think it’s excellent that Starbucks is doing it, because its already a corporation that has a lot of diversity in its staff but they have to be able to project that across the country and not just in a city like New York,” said Martin Walker, of Manhattan.
But some customers said the conversation is too little, too late.
“They’re just trying to be politically correct,” Luis Acevedo, of Inwood, said. “How long has Starbucks been in business? Why didn’t it start at the beginning?”
“It helps them understand their clientele better,” said Raymond Santos, of Harlem. “They’re just doing it more, I feel like, to broaden their own customers.”
The chain said it wants all customers who come in “to feel welcome” and conducted a three-month review of its guidelines. That follows comments from Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz said he didn’t want people to feel “less than” if they were refused access.
“We’re living in a time in America where there is a fracturing of humanity. And we have an opportunity, given the fact that we have stores in every community in America, to begin a very important conversation,” Schultz told CBS This Morning’s Gayle King.
The arrests in Philadelphia were a major embarrassment for Starbucks, which has long projected itself as a socially conscious company and has promoted its stores as a place for people to gather outside of their homes and offices.
Schultz said Starbucks had maintained a “loose policy” on bathroom access, though decisions were ultimately left up to store managers on whether someone could use them. At the Philadelphia store where the two men were arrested April 12, it was policy to ask people who hadn’t bought anything to leave.
The men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who 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 they had scheduled. The incident was captured by people using cellphones and went viral, leading to protests.
Nelson and Robinson settled with Starbucks earlier for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free college education. Separately, they reached a deal with Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from city officials to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.
The pair say their experience is a teachable moment that can lead to change.
“(We want) for young men not to be traumatized by this, yet to be motivated. inspired,” said Nelson.
Starbucks said it plans to share its training content with anyone interested.
Many locations in places like hotels, grocery stores and airports were still open Tuesday afternoon.