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Starbucks CEO says after Hong Kong protests ‘focus’ is on employee safety

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said the coffee chain is focused on the safety of its baristas after Hong Kong protesters targeted its cafes.

“We’re in 81 markets around the world, and we deal with geopolitical issues all the time, but my focus and my priority is really focusing on the safety and security of our partners,” Johnson said Friday on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“Partners” is what Starbucks calls its employees.

Starbucks locations in Hong Kong are operated by the Maxim Group, one of the city’s largest catering groups. Pro-democracy activists targeted Starbucks cafes after Annie Wu, the daughter of Maxim’s founder, described protesters as “rioters” who do not represent Hong Kong and defended Hong Kong’s police.

Protesters’ action against Starbucks, including vandalizing stores and calling for a boycott, has mostly occurred during the first quarter of its fiscal 2020.

Starbucks reported its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday. Its two largest markets, the United States and mainland China, both saw strong same-store sales growth.

The Seattle-based company has been using artificial intelligence that it calls “Deep Brew” to drive sales growth. The technology was originally used to personalize offers for customers within its mobile app. Now, Starbucks is also using Deep Brew for more tasks, like predicting how many employees are needed to staff a store or to forecast a cafe’s inventory.

Johnson said the technology frees up more time for employees. That means baristas can spend more time interacting with customers and improving the customer experience.

Starbucks shares were trading down more than 1% on Friday. The stock, which is valued at nearly $100 billion, has risen 29% since January.

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