Embracing Feedback: Brands are Listening to Stakeholder Voices on Racial Injustice

Jun 12, 2020 3:25 PM ET

Embracing Feedback: Brands are Listening to Stakeholder Voices on Racial Injust…

As the critical conversation around racism in the United States continues, the message to companies is clear: to not speak up is to be complicit with the status quo. And therefore many brands have taken this time to share messages of support, solidarity and commitments to change. Yet, it’s clear a statement of support will only go so far. Americans expect action. In fact, our own research conducted last month indicates 85 percent of Americans expect companies to help address racial inequality (up from 81% in 2018). Yet at the same time, Americans stand ready to call out companies they feel haven’t done the work. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans say when a company takes a stand on an issue, they will do research to see if it’s being authentic. This week, we’ll examine those brands that have adapted their plans in reaction to stakeholder outcries:

  • Nike was one of the more prominent brands to speak out against racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd with a video stating, “For Once, Don’t Do It.” But on social media, Nike faced criticism for not backing up its statements with more concrete anti-racism actions. In response, Nike CEO John Donahoe said he is taking steps to get the company’s “house in order.” Immediate action included the creation of a D&I Acceleration Taskforce and recognition of Juneteenth as an annual paid holiday. The brand also announced programming and training for employees on topics specific to racial inequality.
  • Nike competitor Adidas faced similar backlash after retweeting Nike’s ad with a statement of support, “Together is how we move forward. Together is how we make change.” This time the backlash came from its employees. In response, the athletic brand announced an investment line of $20 million to Black communities over the next four years. As part of the commitment, Adidas will fund 50 university scholarships a year for Black employees and will fill at least 30 percent of all new positions in the US at Adidas and Reebok with Black and Latino individuals.
  • L’Oréal was quickly called out for its statement of support for the Black Lives Matter movement by its first transgender ambassador, model-activist Munroe Bergdorf, who was fired by the beauty brand after speaking out in the aftermath of deadly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017. Now, L'Oréal Paris Brand President Delphine Viguier announced that the company engaged in an "honest, transparent and vulnerable" conversation with Bergdorf, and she has agreed to serve on the brand's UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board.

Although many companies felt the rush to make anti-racist statements over the past weeks, brands should be prepared to back up their statements with action – while also being open to admitting any past transgressions. Further, companies must listen, learn and acknowledge, take stakeholder feedback to heart and be prepared to engage in a more robust approach to combating racism both within organizations and in communities.