Starbucks may end its open-bathroom policy that was enacted after national boycott, CEO cites safety issues

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Who could have predicted this? Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said last week the coffee chain may end its policy allowing the general public to use its restrooms.

While speaking at a forum hosted by the New York Times last Thursday, Schultz disclosed that one of the biggest problems facing Starbucks employees today is mental health and store safety.

“We serve 100 million people at Starbucks, and there is an issue of just safety in our stores, in terms of people coming in who use our stores as a public bathroom, and we have to provide a safe environment for our people and our customers,” Schultz explained.

“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” he explained, adding, “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.”

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What is the background?

Starbucks announced in May 2018 that bathrooms inside its coffee shops across the country would be open for anyone to use — whether or not they are paying customers.

“We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision a hundred percent of the time and give people the key,” Schultz said at the time. “Because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than.”

The company enacted the policy after two black men were denied use of a Starbucks bathroom in Philadelphia. The men never ordered anything. When they did not leave the shop, an employee called police, and the men were arrested for trespassing. No criminal charges were filed against them, and they eventually reached a settlement with Starbucks.

Still, the incident triggered a nationwide boycott of Starbucks.

After the incident, Starbucks forced its employees to attend an intensive racial-bias training, even closing all of its stores one day in late May 2018 for the training.

“I think it’s fair to say that most people have some level of unconscious bias based on our own life experience,” Schultz said of the training at the time. “So there’s going to be a lot of education about how we all grew up, how we see the world and how we can be better.”

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