The Black Lives Matter movement began in the US in 2013, when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager. A prominent hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media led to a nationwide movement of non-violent civil disobedience to protest police brutality and all racially motivated violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic had already exposed systemic inequalities and racism when the shocking death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police launched an unprecedented activist response. People of every age and race joined the BLM movement in massive protests across the entire country, and then globally.
Americans demanded real change not just from government and police leaders but from corporations, small businesses and individuals. They called out companies who composed #BLM tweets without addressing the inequality and racism their employees regularly experienced in the workplace. Some businesses took the criticisms and calls to action seriously.
If you’re looking to patronise or work for establishments that are committed to social justice and ending systemic racism, we’ve compiled a list of 10 prominent companies that support BLM.
The popular Swedish store has stores in 52 countries, catering to customers who appreciate its stylish but affordable ready-to-assemble furniture, as well as its commitment to social and environmental issues.
In May and June of 2020, IKEA held a series of virtual town hall meetings, open to all 18,000 of their US workers, to listen and gain insight from their Black colleagues on ‘how IKEA can become an ally in the pursuit of racial equity’. Those discussions led to the company donating $1.1 million (£836,500) to Black Lives Matter initiatives, as well as the African American Policy Forum’s #SayHerName Campaign, the Equal Justice Initiative and other social justice and education groups.
IKEA will also provide $900,000 (£684,400) in products to help furnish Black and minority-owned small businesses. They plan to commit another $1 million (£760,480) in 2021 to additional organisations that support home and business ownership. The company also promises to continue in-house training and programmes to avoid bias and improve diversity in the workplace.
Even the largest and best tech companies to work for have received their share of bad press, but Google has attempted to distinguish itself by partnering with social justice organisations. In a recent statement to employees, the search engine giant noted it had already donated $32 million (£24.3 million) in the last five years. They pledged $12 million (£9.1 million) more to groups that included ‘long-term partners at the Center for Policing Equity and the Equal Justice Initiative’.
Google also matched the $2.5 million (£1.9 million) in donations from its employees and will offer $25 million (£19 million) in Ad Grants to help these organisations spread their message online. CEO Sundar Pichai also pledged to work closely with the Black community to create internal changes and develop products that support long-term solutions.
The company also made smaller but significant changes to its products, like updating Google Maps to include the newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC. They also added messages of support for BLM to Google Assistant’s catalogue of responses.
One of the reasons this California software firm consistently tops lists of the best companies to work for is that it’s a corporation with a conscience. Salesforce is already heavily committed to charitable and volunteer work, and gives its employees time off to contribute in the same way.
The company also has an already established Office of Equality, as well as an employee resource group for Black employees and allies. Salesforce called on both these entities for guidance in contributing to the BLM movement through new discussion groups, internal initiatives for greater equality and steps to take outside the company.
To that end, Salesforce donated $1 million to the NAACP. They also created a new Racial Equality and Justice task force to advocate for public policy reforms in areas such as policing, hate crimes and criminal justice. This work is in addition to programmes the company already has in place to address inclusive hiring, leadership, marketing, mentorship, equal pay and other important issues.
4. Designer Brands
The parent company of Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW), Designer Brands owns a considerable share of the design, production and sales of footwear and accessories in North America. In his statements to staff and customers, CEO Roger Rawlins affirmed his company’s commitment to diversity, free expression and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Already an executive sponsor of the African American business resource group in their home base of Columbus, Ohio, Rawlins convened a roundtable discussion to listen and discover ‘how not only I, but we as an organisation can show up as allies both now and in the future’.
Initial actions included a donation to the Hank Aaron 755 Society, a fund dedicated to helping students complete their college education and achieve career success. Designer Brands will also foster additional roundtables with employees and accelerate the next phase of their diversity and inclusion training. The company has also committed to partnering with people of colour in their industry, including Black influencers and content creators.
5. Under Armour
Athletes have been influential voices in the Black Lives Matter movement, and several American sports apparel brands have pledged their support. In June, Under Armour CEO Patrik Frisk shared a message with company employees, sponsored athletes and consumers, stating UA’s values of equality and advocacy.
After speaking with their athletes and employees, including a company-wide, virtual town hall, Under Armour management put forth several initiatives. Within the workplace, they’ve committed to ‘filling 12% of director positions and above with Black talent by 2023.’ They’ve set additional goals for other levels of the organisation, as well as increased investments in hiring and professional development for traditionally underrepresented employees.
Under Armour also recognised Juneteenth, the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the US, as a paid holiday. They’ve increased the volunteer service benefit for employees, begun workplace cultural competency training for leaders, will invest in social justice organisations and will launch a nonpartisan global educational voting campaign.
Most social media platforms have been ineffectual at eliminating inflammatory and hate speech toward Black people and other minority groups. Twitter made a greater effort in 2020 to delete offensive tweets, ban hate groups and curate its news feed to offer more factual and balanced views.
Twitter has also expressed support for Black Lives Matter on their profile pages, amplified BLM-related hashtags on its news feed and broadcast a selection of powerful BLM tweets on billboards in eight major US cities where protests are ongoing. CEO Jack Dorsey donated $3 million (£2.3 million) to the Know Your Rights Camp, founded by NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick.
The Twitter corporation has existing departments focused on inclusion and diversity and has published several informative articles on allyship on their site. Above all, the social media hub itself continues to provide a global platform for activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. Twitter reports that, since late May, there have been 206 tweets per second about Black Lives Matter in the US, making up 17% of all conversation on Twitter.
In one of the largest donations to the Black Lives Matter movement, the discount big box store created the Center for Racial Equity, committing to $100 million (£76 million) over five years for philanthropic initiatives. The company hopes to assist efforts to end systemic racism within their own organisation as well as externally, particularly in the criminal justice system.
In a communication to staff and customers, Walmart noted that Black associates make up 21.5% of their workforce, and that 46.5% of associates and 34% of management are people of colour. They have vowed to continue to improve inclusion at all levels and to further invest in their Live Better U education programme, where 47% of current members are people of colour.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon also revealed in his letter to staff that a former associate had confided in him that she had experienced repeated discrimination at work. McMillon has put together several associate-driven teams that will address all matters of inclusion and create a safe environment within the company.
Rather than paying lip service to a trending hashtag, blue jeans giant Levi’s has been committing to social causes for years. This includes improving working conditions in manufacturing, sourcing sustainable products and donating over $7 million (£5.3 million) to civil rights causes over the last decade and $1 million to anti-gun violence initiatives.
In its effort to connect with socially conscious younger generations, the company has previously sponsored the activist-led MCON, including a social justice series at the event. This June they kicked off an Instagram Live series called Use Your Voice, featuring Black leaders discussing the Black Lives Matter movement and other critical issues.
The Levi Strauss Foundation has also donated $100,000 (£76,040) to ‘long-standing partner’ the ACLU and an additional $100,000 to Live Free USA, an organisation devoted to civil rights activism and other social issues. CEO Chip Bergh also promised employees that he would be working with the company’s existing Black employee resource group on improving their 2018 Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging initiative.
Etsy’s very business model is based on inclusion, providing an open eCommerce marketplace for creative entrepreneurs to make money as individuals or to launch their small businesses. The company’s blog reveals their ongoing efforts in social causes and spells out their diversity programmes that go beyond just meeting statistics goals.
Etsy helps fund scholarships and education programmes to help Black students land jobs in the tech industry. They also conduct in-depth polls in-house each year to evaluate the company culture and determine how safe, included and valued their employees are at work.
In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the company pledged $500,000 (£380,220) each to the Equal Justice Initiative and Borealis Philanthropy’s Black-Led Movement Fund. Etsy explained that ‘it’s critical to provide support to organisations working tirelessly for criminal justice reform and those that assist Black-led institutions’.
Buyers and sellers in the Etsy marketplace have also been appreciative of the company’s responsiveness on social media to tough questions about how they do business. They quickly responded to calls for change, including creating a dedicated page to Black-owned Etsy shops.
10. Ben & Jerry’s
As forefathers of social entrepreneurship, founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield decided in 1988 that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream needed a more noble mission than just making money. Their first foray into corporate activism was the ‘Peace Pop’, which had a wrapper printed with demands to cut federal defence spending. Thus, began their decades-long quest to use their products, money and clout to amplify social issues and facilitate change.
Though Ben & Jerry’s is now a large corporate entity owned by Unilever, the company and its employees have retained their activist spirit. In 2019, the company created the ice cream flavour Justice ReMix’d to announce their work with Advancement Project National Office ‘in supporting reforms that invest in people instead of prisons’.
Ben & Jerry’s has long been partnered with BLM and criminal justice reform groups, and they are now campaigning for a stronger response from government leaders. They directly called out President Trump for his divisive tweets, aggressive stance against protests and the rolling back of police reform initiatives. The company boldly called out the country’s ‘culture of white supremacy’ and are supporting the Floyd family’s request for a national task force to draft legislation to end racial violence and increase police accountability.
These 10 companies have made great strides in contributing to the Black Lives Matter movement as well as improving equity and social change within.
What other companies have impressed you with their commitment to social justice? Let us know in the comments below!