Starbucks Happily Succumbs, Institutes ‘Anti-Bias’ Training

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Carl Horowitz Senior Fellow, National Legal & Policy Center
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The term “corporate diversity” these days refers far less to a diversity of opinion than to a diversity of demography in which people submit to rigid codes of speech and behavior if they want to stay employed.

Of the many companies enforcing this regime, Starbucks has been especially zealous. On April 18, 2018, Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz announced that sometime in May he would close about 8,000 of its coffee shops for an afternoon to train employees on how to recognize and avoid “unconscious bias.” His statement was in response to the highly-publicized arrest of two black males at a Philadelphia store.

For the last few decades, and with increasing speed, major corporations in this country are incorporating racial, ethnic and gender radicalism into their business practices. Whether out of fear or conviction, officials now reflexively succumb to Leftist campaigns that target them for injustices against minority groups.

To eradicate such injustices requires bending the rules so that “marginalized” populations — e.g., blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and gays — are held to lower standards of behavior than everyone else. Such an arrangement is justified as embracing “diversity,” “inclusion” and “cultural sensitivity.” The goal is inevitably the elimination of all disparities in group outcomes, regardless of consequences. With few exceptions, corporate officials succumb, and often happily.

Howard Schultz, executive chairman of the Seattle-based Starbucks Corporation, a company whose annual revenues now exceed $20 billion and which employs about 175,000 people worldwide at more than 28,000 stores, is a committed believer in diversity. A major donor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, he believes that Starbucks has a responsibility to facilitate social change — his kind, anyway.

Following President Trump’s “Muslim ban” of January 2017 he issued this companywide memo: “(W)e will neither stand by, nor stand silent, as the uncertainty around the administration’s actions grow with each passing day. There are more than 65 million citizens of the world recognized as refugees by the United Nations, and we are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business.” And in 2015, he instituted a mercifully short-lived campaign to “encourage” Starbucks baristas to engage customers in conversations on racial issues.

Schultz, along with Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson, would get a chance to unleash their inner social justice warriors a few weeks ago. It was Thursday, April 12, at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets in downtown Philadelphia. Two black males had just walked into the store requesting to use the restroom. At least one employee told the pair that the facilities were for paying customers only. The customers saw the issue differently. Convinced they were being denied restroom access on account of their race, they refused to leave. An employee called 911. Officers soon arrived.

In an interview with CNN, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, himself black, said that police three times asked the men “politely to leave the location because they were being asked to leave by employees because they were trespassing.” After the final refusal, the cops arrested the pair “without incident.” The two were released after Starbucks said it would not press charges.

A customer, Melissa DePino, meanwhile, tweeted the arrest video, which quickly went viral. Starbucks, a company that prides itself on its egalitarian culture, suddenly was in the gunsights of radical activists across the nation. Seattle headquarters swung into damage control.

An indignant Howard Schultz sided with his critics: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the reason that [the police] were called was because they were African-American. And I think I’m embarrassed by that and I’m ashamed of that. That’s not who Starbucks is.” CEO Kevin Johnson termed the arrests “reprehensible,” and requested (and got) a face-to-face meeting with the two men. He also vowed to revamp management training to focus on “unconscious bias.” The employee who called police no longer works at that store.

Anti-bias training day for management and employees at 8,000 Starbucks stores is set for May 29. But if the company weren’t so quick to bow to its accusers, it would discard this reprogramming gambit immediately. For “unconscious bias” training in practice is highly sinister. The diversity industry is packed with an aggressive collection of moral scolds whose believe that their audience is guilty until proven innocent.

Back in 2007, National Legal and Policy Center published a Special Report exploring the nature and origins of corporate diversity training. The atmosphere of these group exercises is one of fear, not openness.

The origins of this industry can be traced to a classroom experiment first conducted 50 years ago by an Iowa third-grade teacher, Jane Elliott, who has since “trained” employees of numerous compliant corporations across the country in a similar infantilizing manner. The reality has been that far from fostering teamwork, such exercises raise mistrust within an organization. Group behavior modification on race-related issues is no way to run a company.

The aura of Ms. Elliott will be felt at Starbucks. Headquarters already has announced that the training curriculum reflects input from such public figures as: Bryan Stevenson, founder and president of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and general counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The presence of Holder alone is a dead giveaway as to the company’s ulterior motives.

Howard Schultz thinks highly of this. “It will cost millions of dollars,” he said, “but I’ve always viewed this and things like this as not an expense, but an investment in our people and our company.” He added, ominously: “This is only the beginning.” One wonders if he will feel the same way after large numbers of Starbucks employees, having been run through the gauntlet, quit their jobs rather than subject themselves to further abuse.

Carl Horowitz is a Senior Fellow at the National Legal & Policy Center

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.