Following the numerous protests after the death of George Floyd, many big brands were quick to pick up on the emerging trend and pledge their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests are louder today than they were following similar incidents, putting much more pressure on business executives. This is something they cannot simply ignore, which is why many global companies announced support for Black Lives Matter and promised to change their attitude and brand names that could be deemed offensive.
However, numerous voices are accusing many of these companies of pure hypocrisy. Are they truly interested in racial inequalities or is this pure brand activism, that is embracing a popular cause just to raise profits?
In some cases, the answer is yes, global companies align themselves with the racial issue because it serves their business interests and it would be unwise to do otherwise. The Black Lives Matter movement is very vocal, in the streets and on social media, and no big company is willing to face a boycott for being insensitive to the racial problems in the US.
Other organizations are stepping up and showing support for Black Lives Matter, and it appears genuine. But which brands are truly activists? Are some of them simply trying to look the part so that they don’t lose sales or get ostracized?
Are big companies dedicated to becoming more inclusive?
Many big brands were quick to adopt BLM hashtags on Twitter and other social media platforms. Countless companies donated money to various black organizations too. Hashtags don’t cost anything, and donations can probably be written off. Not to be pessimistic, but that is the reality.
Other actions show a deeper understanding and support of the Black Lives Matter movement. For example, what about promoting black employees and having a racially inclusive management team?
At present, only four out of the top 500 biggest companies in the US have a black CEO. When is that going to change?
Actions go well beyond the words of support for BLM.
Dear companies releasing messages of support for #BlackLivesMatter please take the next step and look at your hiring and promotional practices. Is there discrimination there? How to change? Action more than just saying the words.
— Christy B (@christybis) June 11, 2020
But will the BLM movement make progress in the business world any time soon?
What has to Change
To reach racial inequality and social inclusion involves businesses taking steps for long-term change. While donations are a great start, as is speaking up about the issues, there has to be action that can begin to combat systemic racism.
Nike recently came under fire when it was revealed that only 10% of their 300 vice-presidents worldwide were black. Nike pledged $40 million in donations over the next four years and promised to be more inclusive in the future.
What would be great is if more companies step up and disclose their diversity. If companies aren’t doing so, or if they do not have a diverse organization, then choose to shop for products and services elsewhere. Doing so will help put the pressure on those companies to be more inclusive. It also shows where your values are by the brands you support with your hard-earned money.
Look for brands that are B-Corporations
Also, look at how companies are acting in addition to the messages in their social media feeds and email blasts. Are the brand’s daily practices reflecting those written messages? Look deeper for their intent before hitting the buy button.
If you’re not quite sure, check if the company is B-Corps or not. That means that they invest in initiatives that go beyond only profit. To be certified as B-Corporations, they must be tested on Fair Trade, diversity, and more.
How does a certain business vote?
Another way to check who is genuinely supporting the Black Lives Matter movement is to check where they are putting their donation dollars in the political arena. For example, they might be donating to a BLM fund publicly but then also be donating to US legislators who NAACP give a low grade to for how they vote on racial justice issues.
You can see more about which companies have put significant money toward legislators who aren’t supporting racial justice yet have spoken up about the BLM movement in this NAACP newsletter. Disturbing? Yes.
About the token Black person
Imagine a big company hiring a token Black person for a largely decorative role just to appease protesters. Ug. It happened.
L’Oreal faced a huge backlash over its 2017 decision to fire Munroe Bergdorf, a transgender and Black model, for making comments on Instagram about the racial violence of white people. Threatened with a boycott, L’Oreal agreed to give Bergdorf a position as a diversity consultant and donate some money to various organizations. For the company, it is more profitable to have such a consultant on its payroll than to risk millions in lost revenue because of a tarnished brand.
When the protests stop, what will happen then?
What is worrisome is that at some point the protests will stop and what will major executives do then? The furor over George Floyd’s death will eventually diminish and mainstream media will move onto other subjects, like the coronavirus pandemic.
The issue might resurface over the next couple of months of the American presidential elections campaign, but at some point, the racial issue dividing America will fade away from the headlines. It will still be there, obviously, but what happens when it’s no longer integral to brand image?
Will things go back to what they have been, continuing racial inequality? Some businesses might wonder why they ought to bother with a major shake-up of their management structures over a problem that some of their consumers will forget about?
That is why we must continue to hold companies accountable to their actions. Think about the suggestions above and where you put your dollars. Demand more from brands. Let’s demand more from ourselves too.