Mounting Pressure Forces Starbucks to Roll Back Ban on Supporting BLM at Work

Many corporations are trying to take advantage of heightened public outrage against police brutality and anti-Black racism following the police killing of George Floyd, penning statements saying “Black Lives Matter,” yet failing in practice to back their employees who express solidarity with related movements on the job. But some of those companies are coming under heightening public pressure to end such policies that silence workers.

For example, Starbucks Coffee initially sent out a barrage of social media postings alleging its support for the movement for Black Lives, while earlier this week barring employees from displaying their support while on the job.

Amid immense pressure to change its stance, the company announced on Friday it would allow workers to wear apparel backing the movement for Black Lives while at work. Starbucks also plans to produce 250,000 t-shirts for those wishing to show their support as well, Forbes reported.

In a company wide memo, Starbucks wrote to its employees, “We’ve heard you want to show your support, so just be you. Wear your BLM pin or t-shirt.”

The announcement on Friday was a stark departure from previous company policy, which some employees criticized as hypocritical.

In a tweet authored on June 4, the company wrote that they are “committed to taking action, learning, and supporting our Black partners, customers, and communities.”

“Black lives matter,” the company wrote in the first line of the tweet.

In a statement addressed to workers on May 30, Starbucks CEO and President Kevin Johnson elaborated on the company’s promise to espouse a positive workplace for Black employees and customers.

“We are a family. We act with empathy and compassion. And we honor our differences, always,” Johnson wrote.

However, the company had instituted a strict policy against workers displaying their support for political issues, including the movement for Black Lives, prior to Friday’s announcement.

An internal memo to employees issued last week warned workers not to wear accessories or clothing that displayed messaging in support of the movement. The company reminded workers about its policy against wearing apparel that “advocated a political, religious or personal issue.”

The memo, obtained by BuzzFeed News, suggested that the policy was for workers’ own protection, as outside “agitators” may try to “amplify divisiveness” if such messaging was seen on employees’ apparel.

At the same time, however, Starbucks workers had been encouraged, particularly during Pride Month, to wear LGBTQ+ accessories, even as workers themselves pointed out that they may face similar harassment from customers for doing so.

“Starbucks LGBTQ+ partners wear LGBTQ+ pins and shirts that also could incite and create violent experiences amongst partners and customers,” a Black trans worker explained to BuzzFeed. “We have partners who experienced harassment and transphobia/homophobia for wearing their pins and shirts, and Starbucks still stands behind them.”

But it’s not only workers who have faced racism at Starbucks. In 2018, two Black men waiting for a third person to join them at a Starbucks store were arrested for trespassing after being told they had violated store policies. The two men had reportedly told the store beforehand they were waiting for a third person to arrive before ordering when the incident happened, but a white store employee still called the police nevertheless.

The national headlines generated from the arrests prompted Starbucks to hold a company-wide training day on racism. While some praised the training as providing positive insights on race that employees may not have been aware of before, others were more critical of the event, with one Black employee who took part noting that “there were times where I felt they missed the mark.”

“It seems like a lot of talking from the videos and not enough discussion from us,” the employee told Time.