Starbucks needs ‘racial equity overhaul,’ diversity advisers say

Starbucks should pursue a “racial equity overhaul” of its company practices, according to an independent report compiled by two civil rights experts tasked with advising the coffeehouse chain after two black men were wrongfully arrested at a Philadelphia store location last April.

The report, composed by Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Heather McGhee of Democratic think tank Demos, recommends that Starbucks submit to civil rights audits, increase diversity among its executives and take steps toward addressing its role in gentrification in major cities. Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, the two men arrested in the April incident, provided their own feedback for the company, the report said.

“Our report lays the groundwork for Starbucks to review and strengthen its existing policies to prioritize racial equity and the dignity of all customers,” Ifill said in a statement. “We hope companies across industry will use our recommendations as a blueprint for transforming their anti-bias and inclusion practices, and that they will engage people inside and out of their corporations to ensure everyone can enjoy their services free from fear of discrimination.”

Robinson and Nelson were arrested after a Starbucks store manager called the police because the two men, who were waiting for a friend at the location, had not made any purchases. The incident prompted both Starbucks and Philadelphia police to issue a public apology, and the chain closed all of its more than 8,000 U.S. store locations for bias training on May 29.

Starbucks said in a press release that it is “already acting on many” of the recommendations outlined in the independent report. The company is rolling out a new series of monthly training sessions for employees designed to approve awareness on cultural differences and diversity.

“We want to thank the advisors and all of the people who offered their counsel, recommendations and advice,” Starbucks executive vice president of public affairs Vivek Varma said.  “We’re listening and reflecting. We’re open minded and have more to do.”

The report also recommended that Starbucks appoint an “independent racial equity consultant” that will help guide the company’s strategy on diversity training and to pursue more community outreach efforts.

The proposed changes come amid a sales slump for Starbucks, which announced plans earlier this month to shutter about 150 underperforming stores and slow its rate of store growth. Company executives said they expect same-store sales to grow just 1% in their upcoming fiscal quarter, below Wall Street’s expectations.