Discrimination | Starbucks caught in racism row despite training

Starbucks caught in racism row despite training

The purpose of rolling out company-wide training is to highlight a workplace issue, educate employees on how to deal with it in future and mitigate any problems that may damage workplace productivity, hinder the firm’s financials and ultimately destroy the company’s reputation in future.

Employees should gain valuable insights and learn about the potential consequences of evidencing certain behaviours whilst at work.

However, Starbucks has found itself embroiled in a second racism row after an employee asked for a customer’s name but allegedly penned “Isis” on the coffee cup instead - The Guardian reported. The news comes despite company-wide discrimination training was launched last year after a similar incident occurred. 

Peeved customer Niquel Johnson told the Washington Post that he ordered his drink last week like he has always done using his Islamic name, Aziz, yet the anonymous employee reportedly served his latest set of drinks with the label “Isis” penned on the cup’s exterior. Johnson is now considering taking legal action against the coffee chain.

Johnson said that seeing “Isis” written on his drink made him “shocked and angry”. He added: “I felt it was discrimination.”

Despite this, Starbucks Spokesman Reggie Borges told the Washington Post in a statement: “After investigating, we don’t believe this was a case of discrimination or profiling. The customer approached and provided the name Aziz. The barista mistakenly spelled it incorrectly. We have connected with Mr Johnson and apologised for this regrettable mistake.”

Last week’s news comes despite the coffee chain closing 8,200 US stores last year for a company-wide racial bias training after black customers were reportedly mistreated by Starbucks employees.

To rectify the issue, HR Grapevine reported that employees received training encompassing initiatives to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion and prevent discrimination, a statement on the firm’s website explained.

At the time, Starbucks’ CEO, Kevin Johnson issued both a written and video apology, where he held himself accountable for the incident. “This is a management issue, and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy and the practice and the training that led to this outcome.”

Additionally, Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ Executive Chairman and former CEO, was bought in to help deal with the crisis, and told CBS This Morning that he was “embarrassed and ashamed” about the incident, but is hopeful that the new approach will prevent similar occurrences.  

Racial bias in the workplace

While Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a hot topic for employers and those in HR, a report from Business in the Community (BITC) found that less than half of UK employees conduct equality, or D&I training.

Sandra Kerr OBE, Race Equality Director at BITC, explained that employers should be taking inclusion training more seriously.

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“We know that less than half of UK employees are comfortable talking about race at work, and unconscious bias training can be a great opportunity for employers and employees to challenge and discuss policy, actions and processes in a constructive way,” Kerr said.

“All employers should build this necessary training into their existing mandatory training programmes for all employees and ensure that they receive ‘refresher’ training at regular intervals. Training for managers should also cover how to sensitively address complaints of racial bullying and harassment at work from employees, including from customers and contractors, and communicate a zero-tolerance policy of such behaviour throughout the organisation,” she concluded.

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Comments (2)

  • Christine
    Wed, 4 Sep 2019 1:08pm BST
    I don't think the employee meant to spell the name wrong. They probably didn't know how to spell his name and wrote what they thought they heard.
  • Boris
    Tue, 3 Sep 2019 1:30pm BST
    In this instance I do feel that it was more likely to be an honest mistake, not racism. What sort of idiot would deliberately write this on a customers cup that they end up giving them after the order is completed? I work in a customer facing role and it's not always easy to hear people when you're taking details, especially in a busy environment. If you have a massive line of people waiting to be served, you're not going to have the time to confirm each person spell their name fore you! This does seem more of a storm in a teacup, or coffee cup as the case may be.

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