In early June, Starbucks told its employees in an internal memo that they weren’t permitted to wear Black Lives Matter apparel.
The precise wording was, “…there are agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles of the Black Lives Matter movement – and in certain circumstances, intentionally repurpose them to amplify divisiveness.”
Shortly afterwards, in response to protests and the threat of a boycott, the company reversed its decision, stating that they were “partnering with the Starbucks Black Partner Network and Black Starbucks leaders to make 250,000 shirts available to our company-operated partners in U.S. and Canada to affirm support at this critical time in our history.”
The shirt’s graphic contains phrases like “Time for change,” “Stand up,” and “Black Lives Matter.” The company’s statement this time read, “Starbucks stands in solidarity with our Black partners, community and customers, and understand [sic] the desire to express themselves. This is just one step in our journey to make our company and our communities more inclusive.”
What changed? Although Starbucks’ dress code for baristas reads, “You are not permitted to wear buttons or pins that advocate a political, religious or personal issue,” several employees have said that the company exempts, and has at times handed out, buttons supporting LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. Starbucks wasn’t opposed to making a political statement: They were concerned about the divisiveness.
At some point in between the internal memo and the t-shirt announcement, they either decided that it was no longer divisive in the way they thought or that the issues were so important that it didn’t matter even if it were. It is hard to imagine that Starbucks would make a decision likely to have significant negative financial repercussions, making the first option slightly more likely. The first option, that they felt it was no longer divisive enough to be a risk, is consistent with a sentiment that has emerged elsewhere.
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