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Starbucks banned Black Lives Matter clothing at work. Now it’s making shirts

Starbucks is making 250,000 shirts for staffers, after banning them from wearing Black Lives Matter apparel.
Starbucks is making 250,000 shirts that promote racial equity for staffers, after initially banning them from wearing Black Lives Matter apparel.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

Starbucks is creating its own Black Lives Matter shirt for employees to wear if they choose. The move comes after the coffee chain reportedly banned employees from wearing Black Lives Matter gear.

The T-shirt depicts protest signs with phrases including “Black Lives Matter,” “Speak Up” and “Time for Change.” One sign shows a raised black fist. “It’s not a moment, it’s a movement,” the shirt reads.

Social media blew up over reports that Starbucks had told employees in a memo they couldn’t wear Black Lives Matter shirts or other items because it might be used to amplify divisiveness. Protests have been erupting around the globe over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, which has in turn re-energized the Black Lives Matter movement.

“This is a company that, first of all, speaks out often and has dealt with racial issues before, so I’m really surprised they weren’t more sensitive in the first place,” said Paul Argenti, Dartmouth College professor of corporate communication. “That they reversed course is a good thing; it’s more consistent with their approach to race issues in general.”

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Starbucks did not respond to questions about its memo but said it is partnering with the Starbucks Black Partner Network and Black Starbucks leaders to make 250,000 shirts available to staffers in the U.S. and Canada. Until the corporate T-shirts are available, Starbucks staffers can wear their own Black Lives Matter T-shirts and other gear.

The Starbucks Foundation last week pledged to donate $1 million to organizations that promote racial equity and social justice. The organizations will be nominated by employees.

Starbucks has run into problems over race before. In 2018 it closed all of its stores for anti-bias training after two Black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks were arrested when a store manager called police on them for purportedly being in the cafe and not buying anything.

In 2015 Starbucks was widely panned for its effort to spark discussions around race by having baristas write “Race Together” on customers’ cups. The company quickly ended the practice in response to the criticism.


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