SEATTLE — Starbucks is reversing its position that had prohibited employees from wearing paraphernalia, such as T-shirts or pins, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although the company publicly supports “Black Lives Matter” on its social media channels and in a press release, an internal memo to employees obtained by BuzzFeed News earlier this week explains that Starbucks wouldn’t let baristas do the same. But on Friday, Starbucks reversed its stance, saying they can wear a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt or pin until new branded shirts are delivered to 200,000 employees that includes the phrase.
“This movement is a catalyst for change, and right now, it’s telling us a lot of things need to be addressed so we can make space to heal,” Starbucks said in a publicly shared letter to employees announcing the new T-shirt design.
In a new statement Friday, Starbucks said it’s “critical to support the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement as its founders intended and will continue to work closely with community leaders, civil rights leaders, organizations, and our partners to understand the role that Starbucks can play, and to show up in a positive way for our communities.”
In an earlier memo, Starbucks said it won’t allow employees to wear “Black Lives Matter” material because “there are agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principals of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement — and in certain circumstances, intentionally repurpose them to amplify divisiveness.”
Starbucks encourages employees to wear apparel celebrating LGBTQ rights for Pride Month: The company hands out those items to baristas.
The internal memo was sent around after employees raised the question to corporate leaders. They noted that pride paraphernalia is allowed because it’s company-sanctioned, and Starbucks hasn’t handed out “Black Lives Matter” pins or T-shirts.
A company spokesperson previously told BuzzFeed News that the policy was in place because it’s necessary “to create a safe and welcoming” environment.
The company has a complicated history with racial bias. In 2018 it temporarily closed down 8,000 company-owned cafes and ordered its 175,000 employees to learn and train about racism after a white Starbucks employee called the police on two black customers. Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz said the incident was “reprehensible” in full-page newspaper ads.
The death of George Floyd in police custody sparked nationwide and international protests and major companies spoke out in support of racial injustices, including Starbucks. The company said publicly on Twitter that it’s donating $1 million to organizations “promoting racial equity and more inclusive and just communities.”
Starbucks also posted a story on its press website highlighting a cafe damaged by vandals during a protest, highlighting employees serving coffee to other business owners, journalists, first responders and protestors.