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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Starbucks changes bathroom policy following racial firestorm

The arrests were a major embarrassment for Starbucks

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. Schultz says the company will now allow people to use bathrooms at its coffee shops even if they don’t buy anything. Elaine Thompson / AP 
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. Schultz says the company will now allow people to use bathrooms at its coffee shops even if they don’t buy anything. Elaine Thompson / AP 

Starbucks has adopted an open-bathroom policy following the arrest last month of two African American men at a coffee shop in Philadelphia.

Chairman Howard Schultz says he doesn't want the company to become a public bathroom, but feels employees can make the "right decision a hundred per cent of the time," if that choice is removed at the store level.

One of the men arrested on April 12 was denied use of a bathroom. He and his partner sat down to await a business meeting they had scheduled at the store, but were arrested minutes later by police.

The incident was captured by people using cell phones and it went viral.

The arrest of Rashon Nelson, along with his childhood friend and business partner, Donte Robinson, set off a firestorm for the company, which will shut down more than 8,000 of its US stores on the afternoon of 29 May to instruct 175,000 employees how to better recognise unconscious bias.

Access to store bathrooms, for which Mr Schultz said Starbucks had maintained a "loose policy," came into even sharper focus after another video, taken in January, emerged. The video shows a black man claiming he was denied access to a bathroom at a Starbucks in California while a white man was allowed entry. Neither man had made a purchase, according to the video shot by Brandon Ward, which is posted on his Facebook page.

Mr Schultz, speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington on Thursday, said previous policy required a purchase, but that the decision was ultimately left with store managers, The Washington, The Seattle Times, and other media outlets reported.

The arrests in Philadelphia were a major embarrassment for Starbucks, which has long projected itself as a socially conscious company.

Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson settled with Starbucks earlier this month for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free college education. Separately, they reached a deal with Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 (Dh3.7) each and a promise from city officials to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.