(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) will close 8,000 company-owned U.S. cafes for the afternoon on May 29 to train nearly 175,000 on how to prevent racial discrimination in its stores.
The announcement from world’s biggest coffee company comes as it tries to cool tensions after the arrest of two black men at one of its Philadelphia cafes last week sparked accusations of racial profiling at the chain.
Protesters have called for a boycott of the company, in what has become the biggest test yet for Chief Executive Kevin Johnson, who took the helm about a year ago.
“While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution,” said Johnson, who has apologized for the “reprehensible” arrests of the two men and taken responsibility for the incident.
Attorneys for the company said Johnson and the two men involved have “engaged in constructive discussions about this issue as well as what is happening in communities across the country.”
While Starbucks has deftly navigated thorny issues such as gay marriage, gun control and Congressional gridlock, U.S. race relations have proven more challenging.
Its 2015 “Race Together” campaign to foster a conversation on the topic following the high-profile police shootings of several unarmed black men stirred an intense social media backlash.
Starbucks shares were up 0.6 percent at $59.81 in afternoon trading.
Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker