Starbucks Banned Their Employees From Wearing Black Lives Matter Merchandise

Last week, an internal memo sent to Starbucks employees told staff members that they're not allowed to wear any clothing or accessories promoting or supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a far cry from the Starbucks which publically announced its support for the movement earlier this month, as protesters across the globe denounced police violence towards Black people. Despite claiming to "stand in solidarity with our Black partners, customers and communities,” Starbucks warned staffers against openly supporting the cause. 

In a June 4 tweet, the coffee company pledged $1 million to organizations promoting racial equity, which staff members would choose. In addition, it partnered with Arizona State University to expand upon its anti-bias training and resources. In this tweet, Starbucks claimed that their “work does not end here.” 

Unfortuantely, that work doesn't seem to include allowing its employees to openly support the movement against racial injustice that it has publicly supported. In the memo, Starbucks explicitly prohibited Black Lives Matter gear, or any other merchandise “advocating a political, religious, or personal issue.” However, employees were quick to point out that Starbucks allows staff members to wear pins or clothing celebrating the LGBTQ community and advocating for their rights, and even actively provides them to staff members. 

However, according to the memo, the company warned that customers might “misconstrue” the true meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement and “amplify divisiveness.” The company went so far as to argue that wearing Black Lives Matter merchandise could incite violence, and in an interview with BuzzFeed News, a Starbucks spokesperson defended the company’s actions, citing a desire to “create a safe and welcoming” environment to all who work at or buy products from Starbucks. Quick question, why are we still creating safe spaces for racists?

This is the same goal that Starbucks claimed in beginning its “Third Place” policy, which aims to create a welcoming and inclusive space to all customers and staff members. The Third Place policy was founded after two Black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store in 2018 for not purchasing anything as they waited for an acquaintance, an action quite common in Starbucks locations across the country. After this occurred, all Starbucks were closed for two days to conduct anti-bias training. 

Instead of Black Lives Matter gear, employees are encouraged to purchase a T-shirt, pin, or mug from the company’s Black Partner Network, which created a logo — an image of the continent of Africa on the side of a mug — to “symbolizes the need for sparking and continuing conversation around the African diaspora.” On the website advertising these shirts, it is not stated whether the funds generated from these shirts will go to any organizations supporting African Americans or whether Starbucks will profit off them. 

To many employees, these statements — including a letter from CEO Kevin Johnson which included statements from some of the company’s Black managers and officers —  have been condemned as “performative” and “hypocritical,” according to interviews with BuzzFeed News. One employee in Colorado said it best: "I don't think asking for and supporting those who want basic human rights is necessarily political."