The coffee franchise originally stated employees wearing accessories in support of the movement would be subject to serious repercussions. Then, Starbucks listened to its critics.
The personal is political - unless you work at Starbucks. In an internal memo circulated amongst employees, the coffee franchise warned store partners that wearing accessories in support of the Black Lives Matter movement could result in serious consequences, The Hill reports. The memo was first obtained by BuzzFeed News and claimed that wearing clothing or other accessories that "advocated a political, religious, or personal issue" was against company policy. While the firm seemed to express solidarity with the movement, the more important question about why employees are not able to express themselves at work still remains.
This is just one step in our journey to make our company and our communities more inclusive. To learn more about the actions we are taking to help address racial inequity visit our equity and inclusion timeline here: https://t.co/ZoCVGZvY1v— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) June 12, 2020
The memo brought attention to a question asked during one of Starbucks's Workplace Live events. Reportedly, an employee asked if they could wear pins or t-shirts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The memo, dated June 1, made sure all employees were aware of the answer. It stated, "Partners may only wear buttons or pins issued to the partner by Starbucks for special recognition or for advertising a Starbucks-sponsored event or promotion." It also clarified that some pins that depict affiliation to particular labor organizations are permitted - unless they incite violence or reasonably "interfere with Starbucks public image."
This has largely been seen as hypocritical by employees. In the first week of June, the company took to their social media channels. It stated, "Black lives matter. We are committed to being a part of change." Evidently, Starbucks is only really interested in "being a part of change" insofar as it does not negatively interfere with their public image. A Black trans employee said of the situation, "Starbucks LGBTQ+ partners wear LGBTQ+ pins and shirts, that also could incite and create violent experiences amongst partners and customers. We have partners who experienced harassment and transphobia/homophobia for wearing their pins and shirts, and Starbucks still stands behind them."
Wow @Starbucks.— China† (@chinamcclain) June 11, 2020
To ALL COMPANIES putting out “politically correct” statements but contradicting them with your actions... you are not helping us. We need change from within, not empty words for branding. #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/OLWzajosQw
So why isn't Starbucks standing behind their Black employees in the same way? Well, a video that accompanied the memo featured a top company executive who warned employees that "agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles" of the movement could seek to "amplify divisiveness" if the messages were displayed in stores. The memo affirmed, "We know your intent is genuine and understand how personal this is for so many of us. This is important and we hear you." Nonetheless, the coffee franchise did not escape this particular farce unscathed. Taking to Twitter and other social media platforms, critics rained down disapproval. Therefore, Starbucks decided to change its policy.
We are proud of our partners (employees) and their passionate support of our common humanity. Partners may demonstrate their support by wearing Black Lives Matter pins and t-shirts, if they so choose to do so. https://t.co/T16H2bPQ8e— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) June 12, 2020
Uploading a graphic with protest signs and slogans stamped on, the company wrote on Twitter, "Black Lives Matter. We continue to listen to our partners and communities and their desire to stand for justice together. The Starbucks Black Partner Network co-designed t-shirts with this graphic that will soon be sent to [over] 250,000 store partners." The firm also announced partners could demonstrate their support for the Black Lives Matter movement through pins and t-shirts. It may be too early to tell if Starbucks is truly inclusive of people of color and Black folks in particular. However, this proves that dissent matters. Speaking up matters. Protest matters. Most importantly, however, Black lives matter.