Starbucks closing 8,000 coffee shops Tuesday for racial-bias training

Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald during Question Time in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra Monday

Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald during Question Time in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra Monday

More than 8,000 Starbucks coffee shops in the U.S. closed their doors for racial bias training on Tuesday, in what the company said "isn't a solution, it's a first step" as it sought to rebuild its damaged reputation.

The move comes after the firm had to apologise over last month's arrest of two black men who were waiting to meet someone in a Starbucks in Philadelphia.

Starbucks's workers will be taught about the history of the civil rights movement, and break off into small groups to figure out how bias might manifest in their behavior. Employees will talk about their own experiences, and watch a film about bias.

Starbucks is closing thousands of stores early on May 29 for racial-bias training.

The plan covers only Starbucks-operated stores; almost all of the 7,000 Starbucks-licensed coffee shops - in places like supermarkets, hotels, and airports - are likely to remain open, the company says.

On Tuesday JAB Holdings, the private investment company of Germany's billionaire Reimann family, said it bought a majority stake in British sandwich and coffee shop chain Pret A Manger for $2 billion, expanding its reach into the coffee sector, where it also battles Nescafe and Nespresso maker Nestle (NESN.S).

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"We are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome, " Starbucks said in a statement.

Baristas at Starbucks will be discussing bias, not serving customers, on Tuesday afternoon. "I've seen some new faces so those may be people who normally would go to Starbucks".

Some question if a day-long "sensitivity training" for employees will make a true difference. Police arrested the two men for trespassing, but they were later released without charges, leading Starbucks and police to publicly apologize. The company agreed to pay an undisclosed amount and offer tuition-free help for college degrees through an online program Starbucks has for its own employees. The NAACP's Sherrilyn Ifill, who is one of Starbucks's advisors on its anti-bias training material, has previously noted that "this can't be a one-off".

The arrests sparked protests and accusations of racial profiling at the coffee chain known for its diverse workforce and liberal stances on issues such as gay marriage.

Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse owner Ariell Johnson said she has called the police just once in the two years she has been open. But one expert says training of this kind can have the opposite effect if people feel judged. "I think it makes sense for them to do that", said Mabel Ramirez, from Center City Philadelphia.

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