Since last autumn, when the financial titans Bank of America and American Express announced billion-dollar initiatives to pursue economic and social justice, corporate America has been relatively quiet on this front. Among the reasons is a that certain insurrection last month blindsided many companies, an event that forced many of them to review their lobbying and political donation budgets after a huge wave of criticism.
But never mind the excuses: The stubborn reality is that racial wealth gap in America is as large as it was a half century ago, and awareness about the fight for social justice that dominated the news cycle last summer won’t lead to a quick fix; the right investments must be made by government, community groups and companies.
To their credit, in recent weeks some leading U.S. corporations have stepped up. Several of the announcements promise programs with financial commitments in the eight- and nine-figure range and in turn seek to build opportunities in disadvantaged communities. Critics may sniff at the amount, which in many cases is a pittance when comparing those numbers to these companies’ annual revenues, especially as this spending will occur over a timeframe of several years. The flip side to that argument is that if more companies took action on this scale, more U.S. citizens would feel as if they were engaged within the U.S. economy and society rather than being left behind. To that end, the six following companies are off to a strong start.
Apple’s approach to addressing social justice is one that harnesses what it does best: technology. In early January, the company said it would launch a $100 million racial equity and justice initiative by expanding technology funding and education within communities historically excluded from this sector. The projects include an innovation and learning hub targeting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that will be based in Atlanta; a developer academy in Detroit through a partnership with Michigan State University; and a venture capital fund dedicated to providing capital to minority-owned startups and companies.
The investment management company announced yesterday that it would expand Blackstone Launchpad, a program that works with universities to provide resources, mentorship and events to students with an entrepreneurial streak. According to Bloomberg, 45 additional universities, all of which have majority non-white student bodies or work with underserved communities, will join Blackstone’s program – an expansion backed with a $40 million financial commitment.
The food and beverage giant appears to be doing a little of everything, judging by its $400 million investment in various equity and social justice initiatives it pledged last summer, spending the company says is slated for the next five years. But where PepsiCo could really make a difference is in its promise to double its spending with Black-owned suppliers, as well a drive to invest $50 million in Black-owned small businesses. PepsiCo is pledging more change within as well, with a push to boost Black representation within its management and executive ranks while increasing more recruitment at HBSUs.
Last month, the coffee giant promised to invest $100 million in social equity work through 2025. According to the company, this “resilience fund” will invest in both small businesses and community funds in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) neighborhoods. This effort, which will focus on neighborhoods in 12 U.S. metropolitan areas, builds upon what Starbucks says is its already solid track record in pursuing social justice.
Part of the social justice conversation is inclusion – it’s one thing to promise more targeted recruitment and investment, but if people of color don’t feel welcome at your locations, that’s another bridge that needs crossing. This is where Ulta steps up. The chain of beauty stores said this week it would double the number of Black-owned brands by the end of this year and boost employee training to ensure its stores’ customer experience is one that welcomes everyone. The company said it would spend more than $25 million to make this happen.
Having already promised a more diverse company in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Walmart earlier this week reportedly promised contributions of more than $14 million, an amount to be split among 16 community organizations. These groups will tackle various challenges in communities of color, including mounting student debt, expanding internet access, boosting COVID-19 vaccine education and other problems that have contributed to ongoing racial inequity across the U.S. This latest announcement builds on a $100 million, five-year commitment the retailer pledged last summer to bridge the racial equity gap.
Image credit: Robin Jonathan Deutsch/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.