American companies typically are quiet during protests. Not this time.
Technology, banking, apparel and entertainment firms issued messages of support for those demonstrating against police treatment of black people.
“I am shocked by the number of executives who have spoken up for the first time,” said Kellie McElhaney, a professor at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and founder of the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership at the school.
What’s driving brands to speak out, she said, is the brutality of the video showing a police officer in Minneapolis putting his knees on the back of the neck of George Floyd, who died.
The companies “are run by humans,” she said. “They have black and brown employees, executives, customers. There is absolute risks but the benefit outweighs the risks by far.”
Netflix, Google and Citibank
Netflix tweeted “to be silent is to be complicit,” adding “we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.”
Google added to its main search page: “We stand in support of racial equality, and all those who search for it.”
To be silent is to be complicit.
Black lives matter.
We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.— Netflix (@netflix) May 30, 2020
Twitter changed its Twitter account to say #BlackLivesMatter.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told employees to “join me and everyone on the senior leadership team, in advocating for change in our company, in our communities, and in society at large.”
“Racism continues to be at the root of so much pain and ugliness in our society,” Citibank chief financial officer Mark Mason, who is African American, wrote on a blog post. “As long as that's true, America's twin ideals of freedom and equality will remain out of reach.”
Retailers such as Target, which has been looted and vandalized around the country, have also spoken out. The death of a black man detained by a white police officer has unleashed the "pent-up pain of years," said the CEO of Target, which is headquartered in Minneapolis.
The risks of speaking vs remaining silent
By taking a stand, companies risk losing customers, partners, suppliers and employees who don’t agree with the corporation’s position, said McElhaney. They also risk being accused of using the moment to promote their brands since some may not see corporate statements of support as authentic.
But business also face risks if they say nothing, she said. Younger employees look to company leadership to speak out.
“I tend to believe that people are speaking up because there is no other option,” she said. “Every employee is looking to their leader to speak up, particularly black and brown employees.”
In 2018, Nike ran an ad in support of Colin Kaepernick, the former professional football player who protested police treatment of African Americans. Some people loved it. Some burned their Nikes. The contentious advertisement did not hurt Nike’s bottom line, according to reports.
As protests spread throughout the US after Floyd’s death, Nike released a video in support of the protesters’ message: "Don’t turn your back on racism. Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us. Don’t make any more excuses.”
Adidas, Nike’s rival, retweeted it.