The Boston Globe reports on how workers at a number of Whole Foods stores - in places like Seattle, Philadelphia, and, Cambridge, Massachusetts - have been sent home from work because they were wearing "Black Lives Matter" face masks.
In a statement, Whole Foods said, “In a customer-focused environment, all Team Members must comply with our longstanding company dress code, which prohibits clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are not company-related. Team Members who do not comply with dress code are always given the opportunity to comply. If a Team Member is wearing a face mask that is outside of dress code, they are offered a new face mask. Team Members are not able to work until they comply with the policy.”
The policy isn't just be applied to "Black Lives Matter" masks, but also to New England Patriots masks and other masks with a variety of messages.
The Globe notes that "earlier this month, Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, said it would donate $10 million to organizations dedicated to racial justice, and chief executive Jeff Bezos posted a letter on social media from a customer attacking the company’s support for Black Lives Matter, replying: 'You’re the kind of customer I’m happy to lose'."
But now, having been told not to wear the masks in the stores, some employees are pushing back, primarily via social media, suggesting that the company is being at best inconsistent and at worst hypocritical.
- KC's View:
This is a challenge for any retailer, especially now that so many of them have been posting messages of support for the civil rights/social justice movement online - sometimes specifically citing Black Lives Matter - and often donating money to related causes.
But if they then say employees cannot express their support for the movement, it leaves retailers in the position of looking less than committed.
Now, retailers would argue that they don't want to alienate customers in the store - that people ought to be able to shop without being confronted by politics. And the "Black Lives Matter" movement does have political connotations that go beyond simple civil rights for some people, which makes it an unpalatable choice.
It may be problematic, however, for retailers to take this position. Like Starbucks before it, Amazon/Whole Foods may have to back off its position, and I would think that it could address the dilemma by doing what Starbucks did - come up with a mask that addresses the issue without endorsing a specific organization, and distribute it throughout the stores.