Lauren Aratani, The Guardian, June 12, 2020
Starbucks said Friday that employees will be allowed to wear clothing and accessories in support of Black Lives Matter, responding to a backlash and boycott calls after the coffee chain banned staff from wearing their own T-shirts and pins supporting the movement.
In a bulletin last week, Starbucks said employees were prohibited from wearing items supporting Black Lives Matter, because it violated the company’s dress-code policy.
The bulletin, obtained by BuzzFeed News earlier this week, said employees were “not permitted to wear buttons or pins that advocate a political, religious or personal issue”.
It said that Starbucks’ vice-president of diversity and inclusion Nzinga Shaw shared in an internal video why clothing that highlighted Black Lives Matter is against company policy.
It read: “[Shaw] explains there are agitators who misconstrue that fundamental principles of the Black Lives Matter movement – and in certain circumstances, intentionally repurpose them to amplify divisiveness.”
Employees told BuzzFeed News that Starbucks exempts clothing and accessories that support LGBTQ rights and has handed out buttons supporting the cause.
Starbucks came under fire for publicly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement – as many US corporations have done in recent weeks – while privately telling employees that they cannot wear clothing and accessories that support the movement.
In response to the criticism, Starbucks said on Friday that it would design and distribute 250,000 T-shirts that feature a series of protest picket signs, including one that says “Black Lives Matter”.
“These are alarming, uncertain times, and people everywhere are hurting. You’ve told us you need to express yourself at work, asking: ‘Do you understand how I feel? Do you understand the black community is in pain?’” Starbucks said in a statement announcing the policy reversal. “We see you. We hear you. Black lives matter. That is a fact and will never change.”
Starbucks also announced earlier in the month, before the backlash, that it plans to donate $1m to “organizations promoting racial equity and more inclusive and just communities”.
Starbucks has come under fire before in relation racial bias in its shops. In 2018, two black men were arrested in Philadelphia after an employee said they were “trespassing” by refusing to buy coffee and leave the shop. A video of the arrest went viral and garnered widespread criticism.
In response to that incident, Starbucks closed all of its US stores for an afternoon to hold racial bias training.