LOS ANGELES/ BENGALURU – Starbucks Corp appealed to customers for forgiveness in a controversy over racial profiling on Tuesday, saying its behaviour toward two black men last month had been reprehensible as it closed 8,000 US stores for anti-bias training.

The company settled privately with the two men after a Philadelphia cafe manager’s call to police resulted in their arrests on 12 April. It was closing 8,000 company-owned American stores at around 2pm local time on Tuesday as a first step in training 175,000 employees on racial tolerance.

Analysts expect the closures, coming during the typically slow afternoon hours, would cost Starbucks $5 million to $7 million in lost business. Some 6,000 licensed Starbucks cafes will remain open in locations such as grocery stores and airports, and those employees will be trained later.

The Philadelphia arrests sparked protests and accusations of racial profiling at the coffee chain, which is known for its liberal stances on social issues such as same-sex marriage.

Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz, who crafted the chain’s culture in his decades as the chief executive officer, in an open letter called the manager’s 911 emergency call and the subsequent arrests by police “reprehensible.”

“We determined that insufficient support and training, a company policy that defined customers as paying patrons — versus anyone who enters a store — and bias led to the decision to call the police,” he said.

With independent cafes proliferating and powerful rivals making assertive moves into the coffee business it dominates, analysts said Starbucks cannot afford bad publicity.

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.

Article Sourced from Reuters

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