Starbucks reverses policy banning baristas from wearing Black Lives Matter symbols

The coffee giant had been taking heat for not allowing employees to show support for the movement.
Image: Black Lives Matter
Nickia Wood stands with a Black Lives Matter shirt as people gather near the White House, on June 6, 2020, in Washington.Patrick Semansky / AP

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By David K. Li

Starbucks baristas will be allowed to wear symbols supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in a hasty about-face in company policy announced Friday.

The coffee powerhouse was facing criticism after BuzzFeed published an internal Starbucks memo reminding employees that they're barred from wearing anything that shows support for the sweeping campaign against police brutality and systemic racism.

In the memo, Starbucks warned that wearing Black Lives Matter attire could spark "agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles" of the movement and could use them to "amplify divisiveness.”

The memo went on to say employees could not wear buttons or pins when they “interfere with safety or threatens to harm customer relations or otherwise unreasonably interferes with Starbucks public image." It referred to its policy banning buttons or pins that "advocate a political, religious or personal issue."

The hashtag #BoycottStarbucks was trending on Twitter after news of the memo broke, with people expressing disappointment considering the brand had publicly shown support on its social media feeds for Black Lives Matter, stating that it was "committed to being a part of change."

By mid-morning on Friday, the Seattle-based coffee company reversed its decision and announced its support of Black Lives Matter.

"Our partners (employees) told us that they need a way to express themselves at work and we heard them," Starbucks tweeted on Friday. "They may now wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts, pins and name tags."

The nation has seen more than two weeks of sweeping protests in support of Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a white police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes as he pleaded "I can't breathe."

In a company statement, Starbucks said it's always stood with the crusade against racism — but didn't mention the memo telling employees not to voice backing for Black Lives Matter.

"We will not be bystanders. This has never been more true than today," according to the statement. "We see you. We hear you. Black Lives Matter. That is a fact and will never change."

The company said it's designing its own version of Black Lives matter t-shirts that would arriving in stores shortly for employees to wear.

"Until these arrive, we’ve heard you want to show your support, so just be you," the Starbucks statement said.

"Wear your BLM pin or t-shirt. We are so proud of your passionate support of our common humanity. 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."