Update, June 12, 12:55 p.m. EST: On Friday — and after public calls to #BoycottStarbucks — Starbucks announced a reversal of its original policy, saying that employees would be allowed to wear clothing and accessories that showed support of the Black Lives Matter movement. In a public letter posted on its website, executives Roz Brewer, Rossann Williams, and Zing Shaw wrote in response to employee pushback: “We see you. We hear you. Black Lives Matter. That is a fact and will never change... We’ve heard you want to show your support, so just be you. Wear your BLM pin or t-shirt. We are so proud of your passionate support of our common humanity.”
The announcement also notes that Starbucks plans to print 250,000 t-shirts for employees to wear that “demonstrate our allyship”: Created with the Starbucks Black Partner Network, the graphic on the new shirts says, among other things, “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice No Peace.”
In the long and sacred tradition of major corporations celebrating LGBTQ pride for exactly one month each year, Starbucks has launched a line of rainbow mugs and tote bags. But when it comes to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, demanding justice, and an end to police brutality across the country, the multi-billion dollar corporation has taken a different approach.
In an internal memo acquired by Buzzfeed News, Starbucks executives responded to requests by staff asking to wear Black Lives Matter clothing and accessories by noting that “partners (employees) may only wear buttons or pins issued to the partner by Starbucks… Partners are not permitted to wear buttons or pins that advocate a political, religious or personal issue.”
Some — like Starbucks’s own Twitter account — might argue that stating the importance of Black life is neither a political or personal issue, so much as it is a global and universal one. In the memo, it’s suggested that staff show support for Black Lives Matter by wearing a pre-approved shirt from the company’s Black Partner Network, a group whose mission is to “cultivate, enhance and share the African & African American experience.” The shirt in question reads “keep it brewing” in bold capital letters. Below the text is a small illustration of a steaming cup of coffee, overlaid with a print of Africa.
Black lives matter. We are committed to being a part of change.— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) June 4, 2020
You can find educational resources at https://t.co/xSXwaw2vQA. pic.twitter.com/ZxifsW7oeO
Many Starbucks employees say a branded shirt is not an adequate show of support. “I don’t think asking for and supporting those who want basic human rights is necessarily political,” one employee told Buzzfeed. Starbucks announced on Twitter that they were “committing $1 million to organizations promoting racial equity and more inclusive and just communities,” but staff suggest that these public displays of support were part of an effort to save face — not support a movement.
The company’s outward-facing celebration of the queer community raises the question of which employees they are willing to vocally support. “Starbucks not only exempts buttons and attire celebrating LGBTQ rights and marriage equality, but hands them out,” Buzzfeed notes. While Pride — a holiday rooted in riots against police brutality — has become an easily digestible month of celebrations, the Black Lives Matter movement, it seems, threatens to hurt Starbucks’ bottom line.
In a now-deleted video made available to employees, Starbucks’ VP of inclusion and diversity said that “agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles” of Black Lives Matter could use the opportunity to “amplify divisiveness.” Benson, a Black, transgender employee told Buzzfeed that “we have partners who experienced harassment and transphobia/homophobia for wearing their pins and shirts, and Starbucks still stands behind them.”
Managers and employees around the country told Buzzfeed they feel “muted,” and ignored. Now, #BoycottStarbucks is trending on Twitter, where the company tweeted a link on June 1 to an article from Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. “We have always believed in being a different kind of company,” the letter reads. “We are a family. We act with empathy and compassion. And we honor our differences, always.”