Corporate America’s plan to fight racial injustice: form a committee

Corporate America plans to fight for racial equality and justice by forming a committee, the nation’s largest business lobby announced on Friday.

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The Business Roundtable’s effort arrives amid a rash of corporate statements in support of the nationwide protests demanding an end to systemic racism following the police killing of George Floyd.

The statements have been met with skepticism because of the long history of big business perpetuating racism by paying low wages, failing to promote people of color and campaigning against unions.

Walmart’s chairman and chief executive, Doug McMillon, is chairman of the Business Roundtable, and said customers, employees and communities were looking for businesses “to act now”. 

“Having spoken to many CEOs of America’s leading businesses, I know they share my conviction that this is a time to act to address racial inequality,” McMillon said in a statement. “The pain our country is feeling should be turned into real change.

“Business Roundtable CEOs do not have all of the answers,” he said. “But we are committed to doing our part to listen, learn and to use our collective influence and scale to advance racial justice and equal opportunity for all Americans.” 

This commitment comes at a critical time for black Americans. In the midst of an economic crisis prompted by public health lockdowns, black people are losing work at higher rates than white people and dying of Covid-19 at higher rates. 

There is compelling evidence that systemic racism could be curbed by boosting wages, ending discriminatory banking and increasing access to affordable healthcare. 

The Business Roundtable is well-placed to address these issues. Its chief executive members lead companies with more than 15 million employees and $7.5tn in revenue. 

For now, the lobby said in a press release it would focus on corporate initiatives and public policies which target education and training programs, healthcare, finance and criminal justice.

The committee includes the chief executives of General Motors, JP Morgan and Johnson & Johnson. 

Two of the seven committee members named in its press release are black men – the chief executive of power conglomerate Eaton, Craig Arnold, and the chief executive of Vista Equity Partners, billionaire Robert Smith. There are no black women on the committee. 

The racial makeup of the committee reflects a broader problem in corporate America. This year’s Fortune 500 list, a snapshot profile of the country’s largest companies, did not include one company run by a black woman. Only four black male CEOs are listed in the index. 

Corporate giants have waded into the national unrest to show solidarity and promote their efforts to ensure racial equality. But the comments have rung hollow to advocates for fair wages and workplace diversity.

On Thursday, Uber emailed customers to say it “stands with the black community”, and donated $1m to the Equal Justice Initiative and Center for Policing Equity, among other initiatives. In 2019, 9.3% of the company’s corporate staff were black and 8.3% Latino. 

Amazon said it stood in solidarity in the fight against systemic racism, but has been assailed by workers alleging poor treatment during the pandemic.

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