Starbucks on Friday reversed its policy on employees wearing clothing supporting “Black Lives Matter” after a company memo prohibiting such apparel sparked backlash and a campaign to boycott the coffee company.
“You’ve told us you need a way to express yourself at work, asking: ‘Do you understand how I feel!?’ ‘Do you understand the black community is in pain?’” wrote Starbucks’ chief operating officer, Roz Brewer and Zing Shaw, the company’s vice president for inclusion and diversity, in an open letter to partners. “We see you. We hear you. Black Lives Matter.”
Starbucks said it is designing new t-shirts with a “Black Lives Matter” graphic to “demonstrate our allyship and show we stand together in unity.”
“Until these arrive, we’ve heard you want to show your support, so just be you. Wear your BLM pin or t-shirt,” the letter said. “We are so proud of your passionate support of our common humanity. We trust you to do what’s right while never forgetting Starbucks is a welcoming third place where all are treated with dignity and respect.”
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 250,000+ store partners. pic.twitter.com/Wexb45RcTE
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) June 12, 2020
The coffee chain giant will provide additional operational guidance by Monday, a spokesperson said.
Starbucks found itself the target of a boycott campaign after a company memo sent earlier this week informed employees that wearing gear supporting Black Lives Matter was against company policy because it “advocated a political, religious or personal issue.”
Critics accused Starbucks of hypocrisy, pointing out that the company only last week promised to “confront racism” and “stand in solidarity” with its black customers as protests against racism and police brutality continue across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Some employees also noted that Starbucks has sold products celebrating the LGBTQ community and even handed out buttons supporting the Pride movement.
This is not the first time Starbucks has been caught in the middle of a controversy regarding its relationship with the black community. In 2018, two African-American men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks after they sat in the coffee shop without purchasing anything for what their attorney said was less than 15 minutes while waiting for an associate to arrive for a business meeting. Meanwhile, the manager called the police, who arrested them for trespassing. Neither man was ultimately charged with a crime. The incident, which was captured in a viral video, inspired boycotts and national outrage.