When Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police in July, I was devastated, confused, frustrated and didn’t know what to do. I did know I wasn’t going to march. I marched after Eric Garner’s life was taken by police with an illegal chokehold in 2014. I protested. I chanted. I stopped traffic. I was convinced “a change is gonna come.” And then, once again, no one was held accountable. I felt helpless.
In July, I spoke to coworkers and texted with friends. I embraced my family. We were all searching for answers. Who has a voice that would be heard? Who could catalyze the change needed, as the government stumbles to act? Who could galvanize the people, while the people struggle to be recognized?
The answer: corporations. Yes, the very corporations that lobby the government for profit-driven interests. The same corporations that “We the People” readily support with our dollars.
In today’s 24/7 marketplace, the influence these giant corporations wield helps shape the economy, the laws and to a certain extent our behavior more than ever. It’s time the people behind these brands stop lurking around the issue and become ancillaries in the stand against racial injustice.
“Corporations are led by people, and these people have powerful voices.”
It’s true the responsibility of corporations is, for the most part, to shareholders first and consumers second. They already have their corporate social responsibility causes picked out for the year. Plus, the days when we knew local storeowners by name and could hold them accountable are long gone. Right?
Wrong. Corporations are not faceless. They are led by people, and these people have powerful voices. They just have to make exercising it a priority.
“Business is the most powerful force in society, and we have the opportunity to use this power to support a fair and inclusive democracy,” wrote Ben & Jerrys CEO Jostein Solheim in an April blog for The Huffington Post.
The ice cream makers even went a step further, posting on the company site, “Systemic racism is not a problem that African Americans can solve alone … this is a problem that will take everyone to solve, not just those who are under threat from it.”
Ben & Jerry’s stance is strong, admirable and appropriate but most of all, it is clear. It matter-of-factly states what the problem is and who needs to be involved to solve it. The question now becomes: How will these values seep into the consciousness of other corporations and propel action?
Some companies have attempted to take a stand for racial justice, but so far the impact has been minimal.
On July 8, days after the shootings of Sterling and Castile, music streaming service Pandora posted a tweet in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the backlash was immediate. It was accused by many of its followers of supporting a “terrorist group.” In response, outraged subscribers canceled their subscriptions, and posted screenshots of their cancellations on social media.
That same day, Facebook put up a #BlackLivesMatter sign in front of its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, listing the names of victims while CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked for peace on his personal page. Google employees held vigils, and the official Google account sent out a supportive tweet.
A few advertising agencies released statements through their websites and social accounts, only to have their sincerity questioned because their hiring practices did not seem inclusive.
Each of these corporations expressed solidarity with the movement, something that will continue to be appreciated. But the time for releasing public statements has passed. Corporations must move forward with actionable solutions.
Where is the coalition of companies taking a hard line stance? How many companies are removing corporate funds from states and cities if they dont move toward police reform? Which corporations are confronting their omnipresent lack of diversity? This certainly wouldnt be the first time corporations have delved into matters of human rights.
The precedent has been set
Businesses have publicly supported social and environmental causes before, with LGBTQ rights being a prime illustration.
In March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, IBM CEO Virginia Rometty and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff all joined more than 80 other business leaders in signing an open letter asking North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory to repeal a law that bans transgender people from using bathrooms in accordance with their gender identities. These same companies, along with other Fortune 500 companies, were the ones that outwardly supported the Marriage Equality Act of 2014. They petitioned, marched, lobbied and donated to overturn Proposition 8 in California and it worked.
This week, the NCAA withdrew all championship events from North Carolina for the 2016-17 academic year because of their anti-LGBT laws. Earlier this summer, the NBA decided to pull All-Star Weekend its biggest event for 2017 out of the same state for the same reasons.
The NBA also formed a partnership with GLSEN, a leading LGBTQ activist and education organization, to initiate other pioneering endeavors for LGBTQ causes. WNBA players were issued T-shirts by the league after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA representatives marched on behalf of both leagues in the New York City Pride March.
While LGBTQ equality rightfully garners a lot of attention, it’s not the only issue corporations tackle. For instance, a few trailblazing companies have also taken gender inequality and equal pay into their own hands. Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg is widely known for her advocacy for women in the workforce. When Ellen Pao was the CEO of Reddit, she eliminated negotiations during the hiring and recruiting process as an approach to fix the pay gap. Salesforces Marc Benioff and Intel CEO Brian Kzanich have pledged millions to the cause as well.
“It’s time to step up and do more.”
“Its time to step up and do more … Intel wants to lead by example,” Kzanich said in 2015 regarding the company’s diversity initiatives.
CEOs and the corporations they represent are starting to see supporting social issues as a company value a sense of duty that should permeate their entire business.
Many participate in Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives supporting causes like STEM education, climate change, childrens health, organic farming and breast cancer research.
It’s the right thing to do.
But corporations need to address the other glaring human rights issue. The one where a black man gets shot and the video of his murder surfaces on the internet. The one where justice takes a backseat and then the cycle repeats itself all over again.
Keep the movement moving
Corporations should take direct action in order to effect change, or support others leading change efforts.
For example, nonprofits and even insurance companies have been working directly with law enforcement. They provide hands-on training to show officers how to minimize use-of-force incidents and formulate action plans. Insurance companies, like Travelers Insurance, likely do this because police departments rarely have to pay when sued, as the liability usually falls on insurance companies. Those insurance companies, then, look for preventative measures that can help mitigate their costs. Despite being economically motivated, its effective in terms of reform.
“Supporting Black Lives Matter shouldnt require contemplation; it should be a moral obligation.”
Google, meanwhile, has chosen the path of supporting others who are making an impact by aligning with nonprofits that are moving the cause forward through tech. In November 2015, Google invested more than $2 million in grant money to three San Francisco Bay-area nonprofits working for racial and social justice. Since Googles mission is to make information useful and accessible, it makes perfect sense that part of that money went toward the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which developed an app that tracks reports of incidents involving law enforcement.
Another opportunity for corporations to make a change comes by looking internally. Its hard for a company to take a position on racial injustice if it isn’t trying to fix its own issues in recruiting, hiring and retaining black people.
Look no further than the paragon of corporate buzzwords: “diversity.” It’s commonly accepted that diversity creates better ideas, plugs the talent gap and is good for companies bottom lines. However, this ideology often does not translate into more opportunities for black people to enter the corporate workforce.
In 2015, the number of black people employed compared to white employees was abysmal, especially in tech. Since last year, the numbers have slightly increased, but the gap is still egregious.
“Tech CEOs can make aggressive statements that they support Black Lives Matter,” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told the Guardian in July. “But the reality is that until we improve the number of people of color inside tech companies, we really have not done our job.”
Actions speak louder
The responsibility to fix societys ills shouldnt fall on corporations alone. But through their voice, power and influence, they can force action.
Just last month General Mills put stipulations on advertising agencies that participate in the creative review for its business. The company is requiring agencies to have staffs with at least 50 percent women and 20 percent people of color within the creative department.
“If you are going to put people you serve first, the most important thing is to live up to it and make it a key criteria,” Ann Simonds, General Mills CMO, told AdAge.
In other words, supporting Black Lives Matter shouldnt require contemplation; it should be a moral obligation, one that demands at least the same fervor, passion and action that corporations put toward other human rights issues.
Now is the time for corporate America to do its part. It’s a matter of life or death.
Read more: http://mashable.com/