Starbucks was among the dozens of major American brands to show support for Black Lives Matter on social media amid the protests of police brutality and systemic racism. However, an internal memo obtained by BuzzFeed News notes attire showing support for the movement is not allowed under the current dress code. The bulletin said the anything displaying Black Lives Matter could be misconstrued by customers and even incite violence.
The internal memo was released in response to several questions from store managers to senior leadership, asking if their employees could wear BLM attire to show support for the movement. In response, management said employees could not, claiming BLM support could be misunderstood. They provided a since-removed video, in which Zing Shaw, Starbucks' vice president of inclusion and diversity, said that "agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles" of Black Lives Matter could use them to "amplify divisiveness."
The memo includes a reminder from previous dress code policy memos, which notes employees "may only wear buttons or pins issued" by Starbucks for "special recognition or for advertising a Starbucks-sponsored event or promotion." In the end, it reminded employees that they could wear the Black Partner Network's "Keep It Brewing" T-shirt. A Starbucks spokesperson also told BuzzFeed the company is dedicated to ending "systemic racism," but the dress code will not be changed because it is essential "to create a safe and welcoming" environment for staff and customers. "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," the spokesperson said.
Employees told BuzzFeed that Starbucks has allowed them to wear buttons showing support for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. Calvin Benson, 22, told the outlet the decision to keep the dress code the same is "disappointing" and said the memo "prioritizes those who feel discomfort over Black lives." The Atlanta barista added, "My skin color incites violence at Starbucks. Should I not come to work? It is silencing, and Starbucks is complicit. Now more than ever, Starbucks needs to stand with us."
Starbucks recently partnered with Arizona State University on creating anti-bias resources and training and pledged $1 million to racial equality organizations. Last week, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued a lengthy statement to show support for racial equality, and the company did publish a tweet with "Black lives matter" right in the message. The tweet has been bombarded with criticism, especially after BuzzFeed's report was published.
One employee told BuzzFeed the memo was "hypocritical" and said the previous statements feel "shallow." The employee suggested there was "something deeper here," adding that Johnson "talks a big talk on Twitter, but he's still the head of a multibillion-dollar company that has to keep up with its image. God forbid if employees tarnish that pristine global image."