Continuous Racism at Starbucks

윤진현, Jane Shakl승인2018.06.23l수정2018.06.23 23:02l363호 1면

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 On January 23, 2018, Brandon Ward, a black male customer at Starbucks in downtown Los Angeles requested to use the toilet before ordering a drink. One of the employees refused and got a security guard to ask him to leave. Right after he exited the coffee shop, the police arrived and the situation escalated. However, a white male made the same request and was allowed to use the restroom without question, before ordering. This is a clear cut case of racism. What’s worse is that discrimination at Starbucks did not stop there. On April 14, 2018, two black customers who sat without ordering, were reported to the police and handcuffed once they arrived. The customers explained they were waiting for others to arrive before ordering, but this made no difference. This racial discrimination led to some local boycotts, where protesters reminded the popular chain, that ‘coffee is black’. Starbucks President Harold Schultz was forced to apologize for the series of events.

▲ “Coffee is black, not blonde,” said a sign held by one of dozens of protesters gathered outside the cafe on Sunday. (@damiengayle from twitter)

 Moreover, there have been other cases of racism reported against company employees.  One customer received a cup with ‘ripped eyes’ often associated with Asians and last year, a Korean male received a cup with the word “Ching” written on it. This is a discriminatory word towards Asian. As the controversy spread on social media, Starbucks posted an apology on its official website and dismissed the employee. In addition, the company shut down 8000 of its shops in the United States in order to provide racial discrimination prevention education to more than 170,000 of its employees.

 Sales at Starbucks are consumer oriented, requiring employees to meet and interact with their customers. Therefore, in order to ensure this structure operates as intended, Starbucks is said to have a strict policy of quality control of its services. The entire process, from the time a customer enters the store to the time they leave, is refined and managed by employees. However, despite this strict management, the accusations of racism among employees have persisted. This is because employees are human, not machines. Each employee is a person with a different propensity, which creates errors at the level of service provision. This error causes inconveniences to customers and it is the reason for today's racism debate and the current Starbucks boycott. Starbucks is the largest coffee chain in the world. Its many stores make quality control difficult. In some sense, it is natural that the bigger the size of the company, the more likely you are to encounter problems with sales, service quality and product quality. 

▲ Race Together movement is for sustainable developments. (photo by twitter)

 However, racism is unacceptable in any situation, but it is not a simple problem to address. It requires a more practical solution. The Dankook Herald interviewed professor Oh Seung-jin from the Department of Law at Dankook University. He emphasized that improving policies at Starbucks is the most important method for solving the various problems raised so far. The problems continue because employees do have a precise range for following the company operations policy. For example, policy rules are ambiguous about how much time a customer has to sit down if they have not purchased a drink, and how many people should be told to leave. Racism resulted from these operational weaknesses and was a direct result of the company’s ambiguous policies. Therefore, the first priority should be to prevent employees from discriminating against patrons by having clear policies on when to open the bathroom door and when to ask non-paying customers to leave. The next policy should be to provide personality training for employees. While the employee training announced by Starbucks CEO may help eliminate the racism we’ve seen so far, we cannot be certain that the policy will have a real impact on its employees. It is important to conduct regular training and not simply offer a one off presentation as a means of educating staff on appropriate behavior. A long term change in the way staff is educated will be necessary to produce any meaningful change in its employees.

▲ (photo by USA TODAY)

 Starbucks will be able to restore its current reputation only once they introduce more effective operational and training policies. With the number of smart consumers increasing in recent years, victims of inconvenience are no longer sitting still. Starbucks should not ignore the accusations of racism simply because it is not considered a criminal matter. Consumers expect every moment they spend in a Starbucks coffee shop to be as satisfactory as enjoying their product. If the systemic changes do not prevent racism in the future, then Starbucks may no longer be loved world-wide. 


윤진현, Jane Shak  dankookherald@gmail.com
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