By Thursday afternoon, #BoycottStarbucks was trending once again after news hit that they wouldn’t let their employees wear #BlackLivesMatter gear.
Folks are now questioning the coffee company’s motives, considering they said they’d take action in “supporting our Black partners, customers and communities” in a June 4 statement following a week of protest over George Floyd‘s death. Their pinned tweet clearly reads “Black lives matter. We are committed to being apart of the change.” The company vowed $1 million to “organizations promoting racial equity and more inclusive and just communities” saying organizations will be nominated by Starbucks “partners (employees).” The company also said they are “actively hosting open and necessary conversations with our partners (employees) about racism the Black community faces. Our work does not end here.”
However, according to BuzzFeed News, the company sent out a memo to employees last week explicitly saying that Black Lives Matter attire was prohibited from the list of things employees can wear due to the company’s dress code policy. This means no T-shirts, no pins nor any other accessory that mentions Black Lives Matter.
The ban is referencing a dress code policy that prohibits any type of religious, political, or personal accessories or clothing. However, many employees pointed out to BuzzFeed News that the coffee company allows buttons and attire celebrating LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. Employees say they even go a step further and pass out the gear.
According to an internal bulletin, the recent memo came after store managers had been reaching out to senior leadership on behalf of employees who wanted to wear BLM-related attire as protests over police violence swept the world.
The management responded by arguing that wearing clothing and accessories featuring Black Lives Matter could be misunderstood and “potentially incite violence,” according to BuzzFeed News. The bulletin led employees to a video, which has now been taken down, in which its VP of inclusion and diversity argued that “agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles” of the movement could use them to “amplify divisiveness.”
Calvin Bensen, a 22-year-old barista from Atlanta, said the company’s response was “disappointing in ways I can’t express in words. That statement prioritizes those who feel discomfort over Black lives.” He described their move as “violent.”
“My skin color incites violence at Starbucks. Should I not come to work?” he questioned. “It is silencing and Starbucks is complicit. Now more than ever, Starbucks needs to stand with us.”
A Starbucks spokesperson argued that the company is committed to ending “systematic racism,” but the dress code policy will continue because it was needed “to create a safe and welcoming” environment for staff and customers.
“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,” said the spokesperson.
Many employees felt the contradictions in such a statemnet, saying Starbuck’s actions now feel “performative,” “shallow,” and “hypocritical.” One barista told BuzzFeed News that they’re only trying to preserve their image as to not disrupt sales.
“[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,” the barista said. “God forbid if employees tarnish that pristine global image.”
Another employee said that he doesn’t think Black Lives Matter should be rigidly defined as political. “I don’t think asking for and supporting those who want basic human rights is necessarily political,” this worker said.
Benson, who is Black and transgender, pointed out Starbuck’s support for LGBTQ issues despite risks that it could divide people. The company has launched initiatives over the years to help achieve LGBTQ workplace equality and to assist LGBTQ employees with healthcare. The company even marched in Pride parades around the world.
“Starbucks LGBTQ+ partners wear LGBTQ+ pins and shirts, that also could incite and create violent experiences amongst partners and customers,” Benson explained, adding that workers were able to wear LGBTQ+ pins and shirts without purchasing them directly from Starbucks. “We have partners who experienced harassment and transphobia/homophobia for wearing their pins and shirts, and Starbucks still stands behind them.”
It should be noted that Starbucks’ non-support for Black Lives Matter gear comes after they launched anti-biased initiatives around the country following a 2018 racial profiling incident in a Philadelphia store that went viral.
It’s clear the company still has a lot of work to do in understanding bias.