Starbucks came under criticism for tapping Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League to help develop anti-bias training curriculum. The company will "consult" with the ADL, among other groups, to develop a long-term plan to "deepen its diversity and inclusion efforts."
Starbucks is again finding it tricky to navigate the fraught issue of race in America as it develops training sessions for employees in the wake of last month’s now-notorious episode in a Philadelphia store. The company has come under criticism both for the short duration of the planned training — an afternoon on May 29 — and for who will and won’t be helping the Seattle coffee giant develop its racial-bias education curriculum.
But Starbucks said its response to the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia store last month will entail more than a single afternoon of racial-bias training for its U.S. employees, for which it plans to close more than 8,000 stores. Rather, it marks the beginning of a “new era” for the company, according to executive chairman Howard Schultz, that will include a broad, ongoing look at its policies and practices.
The team of outside advisers the company has tapped to help with the training and longer-term efforts came under new scrutiny after Starbucks revealed a different role for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that describes its goals as fighting anti-Semitism and promoting justice and fair treatment for all people.
ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt was originally listed among a handful of racial-bias experts Starbucks picked to guide the company in developing the training, as was former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. (Greenblatt sold a company to Starbucks in 2005 and was a Starbucks employee for a time.)
Last week, Starbucks announced longer-term plans to “deepen its diversity and inclusion efforts, focusing on the cultural evolution of Starbucks.” Holder is to be a “key external advisor” on those efforts. And Starbucks said it will “consult” with the ADL, along with “The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, UnidosUS, Muslim Advocates, and representatives of LGBTQ groups, religious groups, people with disabilities, and others.”
Critics have suggested the changed role for the ADL was a demotion in response to pressure from activists including Tamika Mallory, a Women’s March and Black Lives Matter organizer, who said on Twitter that the “ADL is CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people.” Some other activists – including Jewish Voices for Peace – are critical of the ADL over its support for Israel, apparent reluctance to endorse Black Lives Matter, and positions viewed as Islamophobic, according to reports in Politico and The Jerusalem Post.
A Starbucks spokesman said Tuesday that the change does not amount to a demotion of the ADL. “The ADL is still very much involved with this,” spokesman Reggie Borges said.
ADL’s Greenblatt co-founded bottled water company Ethos Water, which was acquired by Starbucks in 2005, after Greenblatt was introduced to then-Starbucks CEO Schultz through eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, according to a 2010 article in Forbes. Greenblatt went on to a White House role as director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Obama administration before joining the ADL in 2015.
Greenblatt took to Twitter himself last week, touting his organization’s new role in Starbucks’ anti-bias efforts and saying “ADL will be there every step of the way” and that he was honored to work with the other organizations involved. Greenblatt continued on Twitter: “And yet we know, first & foremost, this is an issue of race. And so we are ready to listen, learn &share our expertise+experience where we can.”
The ADL in Philadelphia condemned the April 12 incident shortly after it occurred and noted in a news release that it had “recently formed the ADL Black-Jewish Alliance in an effort to restore collaboration and build an active and prominent relationship in the Philadelphia region founded on trust, transparency and shared understanding.”
For the May 29 training, Starbucks said it will rely on “advice, counsel, connections to other experts, and recommendations” from NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill, Equal Justice Initiative executive director Bryan Stevenson, and Demos president Heather McGhee.
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Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said the afternoon training will “kick off a multiphase effort” and form “a critical part” of the new-hire process for the company. (During the company’s latest quarterly earnings report last week, Johnson said Starbucks had not seen a significant financial impact from the incident, nor has it quantified the costs of closing stores for training.)
“It’s important we get this step right, and we can’t do that alone,” he said in a statement. “Starbucks has sought engagement and counsel to ensure it has a broad historical view on race; access to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts; views from civil rights leaders; and deep conversation and engagement with a wide number of diverse communities.”
Schultz, in a statement, said the May 29 training marks “a new era for Starbucks,” which was founded “on the concept of being the Third Place in customers’ lives — a place that is neither work nor home, a place that’s safe, uplifting and welcoming for everyone. But we recognize that fulfilling our mission requires us to do even more to promote inclusion and fight bias. We intend to lead on this issue, as we have on so many other systemic challenges that confront our country.”