Training May Not Be Enough to Fix Starbucks's Image Problem

April 18, 2018
Updated 2mo ago

Starbucks' attempts to quell anger over alleged racial profiling at a Philadelphia coffee shop have struggled to convince a skeptical public, as more evidence of possible profiling at other stores has come to light.

In a video posted to Twitter Monday by the civil rights activist Shaun King, a black man identified as Brandon Ward appears to ask a Starbucks employee in Torrance, Calif., why he was refused access to the store's bathroom but a white customer was given the access code. The video was shot in January, according to KABC-TV, but it didn't pick up traction until King posted it to his Twitter feed.

The video, and the images shared widely last week from a Philadelphia store, where two black men were arrested after one asked to use the bathroom, have led to calls for a boycott of Starbucks and growing mistrust of the coffee giant, said Nikita Richardson, a staff writer at Grub Street.

"People think of it as a mass corporation with a bottom line," she said Wednesday on Cheddar. "They don't think of it as a company with a social underline."

Facing widespread criticism after the Philadelphia video went viral over the weekend, the Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued a public apology and met privately with the two men who were arrested. Starbucks also announced that it would close 8,000 of its US stores for the afternoon on Tuesday, May 29, to conduct racial-bias training for more than 175,000 employees. In a company statement Johnson said the company is committed to addressing the problems that may have led to incident at the Philadelphia store.

"I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” said Johnson. “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution. 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.”

These steps have not fully blunted the calls for a boycott.

"When starbucks does these things it feels disingenuous," Richardson said.

Starbucks had closed its stores before, in 2008, when the chief executive at the time Howard Schultz sought to re-educate employees in the art of espresso.

In his memoir, "Pour Your Heart Into It," Schultz wrote that the 2008 shutdown cost the company approximately $6 million. Marketwatch estimates that closing stores on a Tuesday afternoon in May will cost twice that.

But if Starbucks doesn't fix its image problem, Richardson said a long term boycott could cost the company more than one afternoon of revenue.

For the full interview, click here.