Less than a week after Starbucks announced it would be donating $1 million to causes that support racial equity, the chain has come under fire for standing behind a policy that prohibits staff members from wearing Black Lives Matter apparel and accessories.
This week, BuzzFeed obtained an internal memo Starbucks sent to store managers warning employees that wearing pins or hats showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement was still against company policy. While the original memo directed employees to a video, which has since been removed, the text warned that such attire could spark "agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles" of the movement and could use them to "amplify divisiveness.”
TODAY Food was able to independently verify the authenticity of the document sent to BuzzFeed.
The memo goes on to say that buttons and pins are not acceptable to wear when they “interfere with safety or threatens to harm customer relations or otherwise unreasonably interferes with Starbucks public image."
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"Partners are not permitted to wear buttons or pins that advocate a political, religious or personal issue," it continues.
Since Starbucks has been openly supportive of Black Lives Matter in recent weeks (the chain even launched a free, anti-bias class with Arizona State University), many were surprised, disappointed and even angered by the new memo.
On Thursday, the topic #BoycottStarbucks was trending on Twitter.
When reached by TODAY, a spokesperson for the chain reiterated that this policy is not new, but added that the company is committed to combatting racism.
“Black lives matter and Starbucks is committed to doing our part in ending systemic racism," the spokesperson said. "We respect all of our partners’ opinions and beliefs and encourage them to bring their whole selves to work while adhering to our dress code policy with a commitment to create a safe and welcoming Third Place environment for all."
Starbucks' Third Place policy (as it applies to employees) was enacted in May 2018. In order to make stores more welcoming for all, the coffee chain prohibits employees from wearing clothing or accessories that promote political or religious agendas.
However, there are opportunities for partners (the name Starbucks give its employees) to get certain symbols or items of clothing approved through official channels. Groups such as the Black Partner Network and the Pride Alliance Network have created special apparel that baristas are able to wear to show their support or alliance with these groups.
But many employees, and plenty of people on social media, think it's hypocritical for the coffee chain to publicly support Black Lives Matter while banning its employees to do so.
Calvin Bensen, a 22-year-old barista from Atlanta, told BuzzFeed that the memo was “disappointing in ways I can’t express in words. That statement prioritizes those who feel discomfort over Black lives.”
"My skin color incites violence at Starbucks. Should I not come to work?" he added. "It is silencing and Starbucks is complicit. Now more than ever, Starbucks needs to stand with us."
In the past, Starbucks' Pride Alliance Network has approved gear, like pins, which members and allies of the LGBTQ community are able to wear while working.
Benson, who is black and transgender, told BuzzFeed that he has noticed a difference in how Starbucks embraced the LGBTQ movement. However, when it comes to Black Lives Matter, he said he was disappointed and surprised by the coffee chain's current decision to keep banning employees from wearing apparel related to the movement.
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