The world’s biggest coffee company, Starbucks, was caught in the eye of the storm last week after two black men were arrested from its Philadelphia outlet. The arrests, which were allegedly a result of racial profiling by the employees as well as the police, sparked protests and calls for a boycott of Starbucks on the social media. Conceding it was a mistake, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued an apology and called the arrests “reprehensible”. He also said the US company-owned stores and cafes will be closed on May 29 in order to provide racial tolerance training to its employees in the wake of the Philadelphia arrests.
What happened at the Philadelphia’s Starbucks outlet?
Video footage showed policemen talking to two black men seated at an outlet in Philadelphia. After a few minutes, officers handcuff the men and led them outside depite a few customers saying the men were not doing anything wrong. The officers were told by a man named Andrew Yaffe, who arrived shortly after, that the two men were waiting for him but the police did not refrain from arresting the duo.
“Why would they be asked to leave?” Yaffe says. “Does anybody else think this is ridiculous? It’s absolute discrimination,” reported The Associated Press. A woman at the store can also be heard vouching for the duo. “They didn’t do anything, I saw the entire thing,” she said, the report added. The two men were detained for nine hours before being released.
The police, which was ridiculed for its action, said they had recieved a call from a Starbucks employee that led to the arrests. In the recording, a woman is heard saying, “Hi, I have two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” She gives the address of the Starbucks store, and the entire call lasts less than 30 seconds.
In the communications between police and dispatch that were also released, someone refers to “a group of males inside causing a disturbance,” and additional officers are sent. 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. “These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy; they did what they were supposed to do. They were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen,” Richard Ross, the Commissioner of Police said. “And instead, they got the opposite back.”
Ross said police arrested the men after they refused three requests to leave.
After the incident people on social media called for the boycott of the coffee company. Demonstrations were also carried out in Philadelphia, with protesters demanding that the employee who contacted the police be fired. Echoing the chants of “Starbucks coffee is anti-black,” about two dozen protesters entered Philadelphia Starbucks on Monday. “We don’t want this Starbucks to make any money today. That’s our goal,” said Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, one of the protest’s organisers and co-founder of the Black and Brown Workers Collective, reported AP. Protesters also carried banners that read “End Stop and Frisk” and chanted slogans like, “A whole lot of racism, a whole lot of crap, Starbucks coffee is anti-black.”
How did the company respond?
In a statement on its website, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson took persomal resposiblity and acknowledged the incident as “a disheartening situation in one of our Philadelphia-area stores this past Thursday, that led to a reprehensible outcome.” Admitting that their own employee was at fault, Johsnon said, “Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome — the basis for the call to the Philadelphia police department was wrong. Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did.”
The controversy is the biggest public relations test yet for new Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson, who was already fighting to boost traffic to Starbucks amid competition from coffee sellers ranging from hipster cafes to fast-food chains and convenience stores. A Starbucks attorney also said that Johnson met with the two men and have “engaged in constructive discussions about this issue as well as what is happening in communities across the country.”
What is the company doing next?
The company has called for a closedown of its 8,000 US cafes on the afternoon on May 29 in order to impart racial tolerance training to its employees. While it did not specify the number of hours the stores would be shuttered, but the afternoon is the slowest time for the Starbucks business. Around 1,75,000 employees will be trained on May 29.
The company also said that 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. “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution,” said Johnson in a statement
Starbucks has directed cafe employees to welcome customers, protesters and people who are “visiting for any reason,” according to a Monday memo viewed by Reuters, which in particular directed employees to let anyone use restrooms.
We apologize to the two individuals and our customers for what took place at our Philadelphia store on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/suUsytXHks— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 14, 2018
Is it the first incident of “racial bias” by Starbucks?
Starbucks has had a brush with racial discrimination allegations earlier as well when the company’s 2015 “Race Together” campaign sparked outrage among people. The company planned to start a national conversation on race relations by asking its employees to write the words “Race Together” on coffee cups. The campaign, however, faced a backlash with many complaining that the company was overstepping its boundaries and that cafes are no place to discuss sensitive issues.
Shares in Starbucks closed up 0.7 per cent at $59.83 on Tuesday and are relatively unchanged in the week since the arrests.