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New policy comes in the wake of Philadelphia racist fiasco

Tim Nelson
May 11, 2018

In the wake of last month’s racial bias incident, in which two black men were arrested for simply sitting down and waiting in a Philadelphia location, Starbucks plans to make some changes. Perhaps unexpectedly, clarification around the coffee chain’s bathroom policy seems to be chief among them.

This week, executive chairman Howard Schultz stated that Starbucks’ bathrooms will be open to anyone who needs to use them going forward, regardless of whether or not they’ve purchased anything. “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. We want you to be more than," Schultz told attendees at an Atlantic Council event in Washington.

The new open-door policy is an attempt to remove the pretext that ultimately led the arrests of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson. The two were denied access to the bathroom because they weren’t paying customers, and the store’s manager called the police shortly thereafter. The two were initially arrested for trespassing, though no charges were ultimately filed.

Of course, Schultz is wary of Starbucks becoming synonymous with “free public bathroom”, but he sees the move as a necessary step to univeralize what had been a store-by-store policy that went “absolutely wrong in every way” on that day in Philadelphia.

“The first thing we want to make sure is that regardless of your station in life, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your gender, your ethnic background—everyone is welcome at Starbucks,” Schultz said.

The decision comes shortly after an earnings call suggested that the racist episode in Philadelphia—just one of many such regrettable incidents to make the headlines in recent weeks—won’t even affect Starbucks’ bottom line. In addition to the new bathroom policy, 8,000 Starbucks locations nationwide will also be shut down on the afternoon of May 29 for racial sensitivity training.

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