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By Peace Madu-West

BLACK LIVES MATTER: BRAND-ACTIVISM OR GENUINE SUPPORT?

As the uprising began following the death of George Floyd, we saw many statements from brands raising their voices with protesters and pledging donations to the Black Lives Matter movement and other charities fighting racial injustice. This however has caused many to ask, if black lives mattered to these big corporations, then where are the black people in their boardrooms and on leadership levels? This article is by no means to name and shame these brands but to critically analyse the sudden ‘support’ they are now showing for the black community. In the past, brands would drop influencers, artists or athletes for campaigning against issues such as what we see going on today, taking for example, the National Football League firing Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016. Another instance was L’Oreal Paris being outed by activist Munroe Bergdorf about their black solidarity hypocrisy. Turns out that in 2017, L’Oreal Paris had ended their professional relationship with Bergdorf due to her speaking out against racism and white supremacy. Yet, during #BlackoutTuesday, L’Oreal Paris put up the black square on their social media accounts, and written in it was, ‘Speaking out is worth it’.

Additionally, let us talk about the corporation Reddit, which in 2015 was crowned home to ‘the most violent racists’ by Southern Poverty Law Centre. When Reddit CEO Steve Huffman was asked in 2018 whether “obvious open racism” was against the companies’ rules, he said, plain and simple, “it’s not”. He later retracted on this statement saying that “racism was allowed but not welcome”. During the wake of the protests over the death of Mr Floyd, he released a company statement claiming, “our values are clear”, Reddit employees and users, he stated, “do not tolerate hate, racism, and violence”.
 

Beauty veteran Sharon Chuter of Uoma Beauty, called out some of these brands pledging their support to ‘Pull Up or Shut Up’. She highlighted the lack of black employees in leadership roles within their establishments by stating that “Every single brand and every single company has an Equal Opportunity Employment Policy. All these brands are now standing in support and donating, meanwhile, within their organisations, they don’t actively employ black people. They have no black leaders”. So, are these companies trying to tell us that no black person has applied for leadership roles since the formation of their establishments? Thus, why now? Why are these companies scrambling to be a part of this movement as though black people only just came out? The answer is simple, a 2018 survey which covered 35 countries demonstrated that 64% of consumers would support brands they saw engaging in some sort of activism.

Millennials, most especially, reported that they are more likely to give their money to firms that appear to be affiliated with their beliefs. With corporations being driven by the interests of their stakeholders, they consequently, exploit moments they see fit for their economic benefit. Therefore, the purpose behind their alliance during this national outcry, is that once they win customer support, they win customer money.

 

What is the way forward?

Just as Chuter stated, brands need to put their money where their mouth is. It is not enough to just take to social media saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ yet within your firm, there is no black person. L’Oreal Paris for example, reached out to Munroe Bergdorf to apologise for the 2017 incident and then offered her a consultancy role within their UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board, which she accepted. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian gave up his seat in the tech company and instructed it be filled by a black candidate, he was replaced by Michael Seibel. All brands should start reviewing their policies and start making reforms within their organisations. They should put the same energy they use in shouting Black Lives Matter online, into their recruitment of black people within their establishments, especially, in leading roles.

 

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