Amid an ongoing historic Black civil rights movement transforming public life worldwide, companies large and small are lining up to show support. One such company is Starbucks, who has taken to social media to express solidarity with the movement and Black employees at the company as well as actionable steps they are taking, including the creation of anti-bias training and $1 million in donations to “organizations promoting racial equity.”
But Starbucks has also banned employees from wearing any attire supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
As reported by BuzzFeed News, the company has banned employees from wearing “T-shirts, pins, or any other accessory that mentions Black Lives Matter,” citing a dress code policy prohibiting any “any type of political, religious, or personal accessories or clothing.” In a memo sent out last week by Starbucks obtained by BuzzFeed News, attire supporting the Black Lives Matter movement is specifically named as being against the already established dress code.
The memo, which can be seen in full below, goes on to state that “there are agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles of the Black Lives Matter movement—and in certain circumstances, intentionally repurpose them to amplify divisiveness.” This policy, one seemingly at odds with public statements Starbucks has made about racial injustice, including a June 1st tweet stating they will “confront racism” and “stand in solidarity with [their] Black partners” and “not be bystanders,” has left many baristas at the company disappointed and confused, especially in light of the company’s stance on attire advocating for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. As BuzzFeed News notes, Starbucks has not only made an exemption for them, but also hands out pins and buttons celebrating them.
Employees wishing to show their support of the current civil rights movement can so by purchasing with their own money a Starbucks-approved t-shirt from the brand’s Black Partner Network, which “aims to spark conversations ‘around the African diaspora.’”
Some employees BuzzFeed News spoke with described the company’s statements on equality as “performative,” “shallow,” and “hypocritical.” One Atlanta employee, Calvin Bensen, calls the response “disappointing in ways I can’t express in words. That statement prioritizes those who feel discomfort over Black lives.” Bensen continues:
“My skin color incites violence at Starbucks. Should I not come to work?” he asked. “It is silencing and Starbucks is complicit. Now more than ever, Starbucks needs to stand with us.”
Another employee questioned Starbucks’—who recently announced the closure of 400 stores in the US and Canada over the next 18 months in favor of pick-up only locations—true intentions behind the ban:
“We have a police detail outside of the store most days anyway. Let’s just call him over if a customer is offended by someone’s BLM pin,” the employee said. “There’s something deeper here. [Starbucks CEO] Kevin Johnson talks a big talk on Twitter, but he’s still the head of a multibillion-dollar company that has to keep up with its image. God forbid if employees tarnish that pristine global image.”