Starbucks is backtracking on its policy barring store employees from wearing their own Black Lives Matter clothing and accessories after a backlash this week that included calls for a boycott of the coffee company.
Earlier this week, BuzzFeed reported that Starbucks would not let employees sport Black Lives Matter–themed clothing or accessories, positing that such items could create friction with customers. The stance struck many as hypocritical given Starbucks’ public positions on racial justice, including a corporate tweet on June 4 saying unequivocally “Black Lives Matter.”
In a letter to staff on Friday, Starbucks operations chief Roz Brewer, herself black, and two other senior executives, gave employees the green light to wear Black Lives Matter pins or T-shirts until Starbucks provides them with those items. “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,” Brewer and her colleagues wrote.
What irked many employees was the fact that Starbucks provides pins and clothing in support of other potentially controversial topics, including LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. Now, Starbucks will be providing employees 250,000 shirts with designs by staff that say “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” in the coming days. Until then, they can wear their own. Last week, Starbucks pledged $1 million to organizations that promote “racial equity and more inclusive and just communities.”
The controversy comes at a time when Starbucks can ill afford to lose any business: Comparable sales in the U.S. in the last week in May were down 32%, with most business coming from drive-thru and curbside pickup given that in-store seating is not available even as lockdowns ease.
Starbucks, despite its outspokenness about racial equality, has sometimes found itself embroiled in racial strife. Two years ago, after two black men who sat down at a Philadelphia store without ordering anything were arrested by police called in by Starbucks employees, the company shut all U.S. locations for an afternoon of companywide anti-racial-bias training.