Bathrooms at Starbucks stores will be open to anyone who needs to use them following the controversial arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia location last month.
Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz addressed the controversy and “kind of loose [bathroom] policy” during a Q&A session called “The Role and Responsibility of a Global Company” moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, on Thursday.
“In terms of the bathroom, we’re going to have to make sure that – we don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision 100 percent of the time and give people the key, because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than,” he told Ignatius, according to a transcript of the conversation on the Atlantic Council’s website. “We want you to be more than.”
The arrests sparked protests, apologies and plans for racial-bias training for Starbucks employees, set for later this month. On May 29, the company will close its stores for an afternoon so employees can undergo a racial bias training.
“That curriculum and that education is the beginning, not the end, of an entire transformation of our training at Starbucks, which, in addition to everything we do operationally, will stay inside the company,” Schultz said.
The company is also producing a documentary with Stanley Nelson, who directed the 2010 civil rights film Freedom Riders, “to make sure that people understand this is not a marketing thing,” Schultz said during the conversation, which was also streamed on C-SPAN.
Philadelphia officials said they were “pleased” with the bathroom change.
“This is a positive step in the right direction as Starbucks continues to review and its policies and practices so positive change can come of the unfortunate incident that occurred last month,” city spokeswoman Deanna Gamble said in a statement. “The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations will continue to work with Starbucks on this pursuit to ensure that such an incident does not happen again.”
Over the last two weeks, the company has told employees that while policies “are still under the 90-day review,” the workers should “ensure all customers coming in feel welcome.”
“If someone needs to use the restroom, please let them, but if the safety of that customer, other customers or partners is in jeopardy, use your 911 quick reference guide for guidance on any action to be taken,” the statement reads.
Schultz’s comments came about a month after two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets while waiting for a business associate. During an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America in April, Nelson said he first asked to use the bathroom but was denied access because he wasn’t a customer.
The two were arrested after a manager called police, reporting that the men refused to leave after she told them they could not stay in the store without buying anything.
“Two gentlemen in my cafe… are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” she said in the 911 call, made about 4:40 p.m. April 12.
Minutes later, a radio dispatcher said a “group of males” was “refusing to leave.” Shortly after, a man can be heard saying that a “group of males” was “causing a disturbance” before requesting backup as well as a supervisor.
An incident report obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News said the two men cursed at the Starbucks manager and refused to leave after officers repeatedly asked them to. It also accused the men of insulting police by saying, “Cops don’t know the laws,” and “Y’all make 45G a year.”
Twitter user @MissyDePino shared a video on their arrest, which prompted boycotts and protests.
Earlier this month, the city announced that it had reached an agreement with Nelson and Robinson, agreeing to pay them $1 and to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs. Separately, Starbucks announced that its agreement with the men included a “financial settlement” for an undisclosed sum as well as “continued listening and dialogue between parties and specific action and opportunity.”
“Looking at how we took a negative and turned it into a positive, that’s really all we want,” Robinson told GMA anchor Robin Roberts during an interview after the agreements were announced. “Not to focus on the negative, but just to focus on positive outcome.”