Starbucks has reversed an earlier policy decision that told employees not to wear clothing in support of Black Lives Matter, the American social justice movement at the forefront of protests over the alleged police killing of George Floyd.
On Friday, the company unveiled a design for its own T-shirts in support of the cause. Until those arrive, it is allowing workers to wear apparel that expresses support for the movement while at work.
“Until these arrive, we’ve heard you want to show your support, so just be you,” Starbucks executives wrote in a letter to employees titled “Standing together against racial injustice.”
“Wear your BLM pin or t-shirt. We are so proud of your passionate support of our common humanity. We trust you to do what’s right while never forgetting Starbucks is a welcoming third place where all are treated with dignity and respect.”
The change follows a severe backlash on social media after a leaked memo from the company’s executive front office last week told baristas not to wear accessories or clothes that specifically referenced Black Lives Matter. Some Starbucks employees took their grievances to social media, saying the company was being unfair because it regularly allowed attire that supported other social causes.
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The internal communication sent last week, however, reminded staff that attire that "advocated a political, religious or personal issue" is strictly prohibited, according to BuzzFeed News.
Employees cite hypocrisy
Before now, employees said the company regularly allowed its dress code policy to be bent for other political causes, such as encouraging workers to wear pins in support of LGBTQ equality and Pride Month every June, BuzzFeed reported.
“Starbucks LGBTQ+ partners wear LGBTQ+ pins and shirts that also could incite and create violent experiences amongst partners and customers,” one black transgender employee of the coffee chain told BuzzFeed. “We have partners who experienced harassment and transphobia/homophobia for wearing their pins and shirts, and Starbucks still stands behind them.”
The company also took heat online.
Late Thursday, the company responded to an employee on Twitter who directly addressed @Starbucks to complain about the policy.
“I might get fired for this but I’m calling @Starbucks out, how are y’all gonna say we can’t wear anything BLM bc it’s a personal issue, but have us wear and profit off pride month shirts, cups, gift cards. BLM and Pride were both created to fight injustice, what’s the difference?”
The company replied directly to the post, saying all its U.S. partners would be a sent a “Starbucks partner” shirt “to lend our collective voice in support of our Black partners, customers and communities.”
Memo sent with video
The memo was reportedly sent with a video recording of a top executive who reiterated the company’s stance, saying “agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles” of the movement could seek to “amplify divisiveness” if the messages are displayed in stores.
When contacted, a Starbucks spokesperson told BuzzFeed that the policy is meant “to create a safe and welcoming” environment at its locations.
“We respect all of our partners’ opinions and beliefs, and encourage them to bring their whole selves to work while adhering to our dress code policy,” the spokesperson said.
Floyd died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Protests against racism and police brutality have erupted around the world in the days since, and the officer, Derek Chauvin, was fired and charged with second-degree murder and other charges.
Amid the unrest, Starbucks has posted numerous messages of support for the Black Lives movement to its social media accounts.
On June 1, the company tweeted: “We will confront racism to create a more inclusive and just world. We stand in solidarity with out Black partners, customers and communities. We will not be bystanders.”
On June 4 the company said: “Black lives matter. We are committed to being a part of change.” Along with other messages in support of the movement, Starbucks pledged to give $1 million to organizations that promote racial equality.
Black Lives Matter grew into a national movement in the aftermath of the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown, a black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri. In the years since, the group has become a tour de force, organizing protests against repeated police killings around the country.
The Washington D.C. branch of the organization recently sued the Trump administration over the June 1 siege outside the White House, where U.S. forces launched gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protesters who were gathered in Floyd’s memory.
In April 2018, Starbucks caused a national uproar after two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store after the coffee shop’s manager called 911 to report them for trespassing when they were actually at the establishment for a business meeting. In the weeks following the incident, the company closed its doors to train its employees on racial sensitivity and also updated some of its store policies.
The coffee giant previously announced plans to transition a large number of its stores to pick-up-only locations, specifically in major cities, and will shutter more than 400 company-owned locations in the United States during the next 18 months, according to reports.
Many of the nation’s largest companies have taken to social media to express support for the Black Lives Matter movement but have also acknowledged shortcomings with diversity and a lack of urgency to promote black people to the executive ranks.
One example is Amazon, which has been prominently displaying “Black lives matter” on its platforms and its CEO Jeff Bezos has been posting to Instagram racist emails he has received from consumers who are unhappy with the company for taking a stance.
On Sunday, Bezos shared a venomous, profanity-laced tirade from a man who didn’t appreciate the company’s recent support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This sort of hate shouldn’t be allowed to hide in the shadows,” Bezos wrote in a statement accompanying a screenshot of the man’s email. “You’re the kind of customer I’m happy to lose.”
Bezos’ company, however, has been accused of racial hypocrisy for the troubling conditions reported by warehouse workers, who are mostly people of color, during the coronavirus pandemic. Also, 2019 workforce data shows about 8% of its managers in the U.S. are black, compared with nearly 60% of managers who are white, according to The Associated Press.