Starbucks gets recommendations on how to address bias

Protesters gather outside the Starbucks a at 18th and Spruce Streets in April following the arrest of two black men.

Starbucks should identify potential patterns of discrimination in its hiring and survey the communities surrounding its stores to see whether residents — particularly those of color — feel welcomed, said a report released Monday that details how the company can address bias.

The report comes a little more than a month after Starbucks shut all its U.S. stores for an afternoon to conduct anti-bias training. The training followed a national outcry over the arrests of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks in April.

The report was written by Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Heather C. McGhee, former president of Demos, a public policy organization that promotes equal rights. Both agreed to help advise Starbucks. Among the recommendations they offered to the coffee company:

  • Conduct in-store tests to see if staff are treating customers of various backgrounds differently.
  • Allow for an independent review — or a “civil rights audit” — to examine the company’s policies and other metrics, such as the racial diversity of staff at all levels.
  • Identify patterns of discrimination and inequity in employee recruitment, hiring, retention, pay, promotion and grievance procedures.
  • Improve communication between staff and the corporation. After the Philadelphia incident, the report said, “it became clear that front-line store employees were aware of rising tensions from a shift to more stringent enforcement of customer-only policies well before the incident occurred.”

Starbucks also said it plans to:

  • Conduct further anti-bias training with staff. One training, called “Mindful Decision Making,” will discuss the effects of discrimination. Others will talk about creating diverse teams and “engaging with empathy,” the company said.
  • Hold a conference next year for more than 15,000 store managers and leaders to talk about bias and ways to be more inclusive.
  • Work with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a Washington-based coalition, to bring together other businesses and hold a working session about creating a more inclusive work culture.

Donte Robinson, one of the men arrested April 12 at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets, called Monday’s report “an important first step.”

“What happened to us shouldn’t happen to anyone,” Robinson said in a statement. He and Rashon Nelson, both 23-year-old entrepreneurs, were waiting for a business associate when the store manager called police. “While we cannot change the events of April 12, we are committed to doing what we can to increase opportunities in our community and to prevent other African Americans from being profiled at Starbucks or any other business.”

Robinson and Nelson reached an agreement in May with the City of Philadelphia, which said it would pay them $1 each and set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs at their request. They also reached a separate agreement with the coffee company.

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While Starbucks has received credit for closing its U.S. stores to conduct training, the company has also faced criticism for other incidents of bias. Last week, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student said a Starbucks barista in West Philadelphia mocked him for his stuttering disorder.