Starbucks will close more than 8000 stores nationwide tomorrow in the US to conduct anti-bias training, the next of many steps the company is taking to try to restore its tarnished image as a hangout where all are welcome.
After the arrests of two black men in Philadelphia last month at one of its stores, the coffee chain's leaders apologised and met with the two men, but also reached out to activists and experts in bias training to put together a curriculum for its 175,000 workers.
That has put a spotlight on the little-known world of "unconscious bias training," which is used by many corporations, police departments and other organisations to help address racism in the workplace.
The training is typically designed to get people to open up about implicit biases and stereotypes in encountering people of colour, gender or other identities.
The Perception Institute, a consortium of researchers consulting with Starbucks, defines implicit bias as attitudes — positive or negative — or stereotypes someone has toward a person or group without being conscious of it.
A common example, according to some of its studies, is a tendency for white people to unknowingly associate black people with criminal behaviour.
Many retailers including Walmart and Target said they already offer some racial bias training. Target says it plans to expand that training. Nordstrom has said it plans to enhance its training after issuing an apology to three black teenagers in Missouri who employees falsely accused of shoplifting.
Anti-bias sessions can incorporate personal reflections, explorations of feelings and mental exercises. But one expert says training of this kind can have the opposite effect if people feel judged.
According to a video previewing the Starbucks training, there will be recorded remarks from Starbucks executives and rapper/activist Common. From there, employees will "move into a real and honest exploration of bias" where, in small groups, they can share how the issue comes up in their daily work life.
Starbucks has described it as a "collaborative and engaging experience for store partners to learn together." ''
Developed with feedback from the NAACP Legal Defence and Education Fund, the Perception Institute and other social advocacy groups, Tuesday's four-hour session will give workers a primer on the history of civil rights from the 1960s to present day.
Workers will also view a short documentary film.