The problem with false promises
It’s been 3 years since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement grabbed headlines and rocked the world. In this blog, we take a look at the promises made by brands and corporates to tackle racism. What’s changed? Have brands kept their promises?
Many organisation and brands publicly expressed support for the movement and made pledges to address racial inequality within their own organisations. However, three years on it’s become obvious that these were short term, and short lived, despite the promises being ambitious and long-term. And, many organisations and brands did not follow up on these pledges after they had posted their black square on social media and simply failed to demonstrate meaningful action.
We’ve recognised a few of the causes of this
Focus on short-term
Companies may have focused on short-term initiatives or symbolic gestures that have limited long-term impact. While public statements and donations can raise awareness, they may not necessarily address the underlying systemic issues or lead to sustained change.
Lack of genuine commitment
Some companies may have made statements or pledges in response to public pressure or to protect their brand image, without having a genuine commitment to driving systemic change. These companies may have viewed their statements as simply a PR move rather than a long-term commitment.
Implementing meaningful change requires buy-in from all levels of an organisation. Change can be challenging, and companies may face internal resistance that prevents them from effectively following through on their pledges, so, any kind of internal resistance from the leadership itself or within the employee network can hinder progress.
Lack of accountability
Without clear benchmarks or mechanisms to track progress, companies may find it easier to overlook their commitments over time. If there is no accountability within the organisation, nor any specific forms of external pressure to hold them to their pledges, organisations and brands may be less motivated to take concrete action.
Complexity and systemic issues
Addressing racial inequality is a complex and multifaceted issue. It requires a deep examination of policies, practices, and structures within organisations. Some companies may have underestimated the complexity of the problem or encountered difficulties in implementing meaningful change, leading to a lack of progress.
Organisations and brands that fell foul of false promises
Performative action has real world impact. All of the above issues, combined with the failure to deliver on the big promises made, have actually caused intense emotional labour leading to burnout and the eventual closure of Global Majority-led organisations.
Here are some examples of organisations/brands that fell victim to the systemic racism they were trying to tackle.
In 2020, gal-dem, a magazine for women and non-binary people of colour founded in 2015, saw its profile rise dramatically. After securing investment for full-time staff in 2019, the publication switched from being volunteer-led to a professional business. In 2020, it launched a membership model to enable readers to support the publication directly. It had previously been reliant on revenue from brand partnerships but staff said the pandemic added new financial risks. It was forced to fold in March 2023.
Netflix laid off a contingent of its editorial staff, just five months after launching its in-house publication ‘Tudum’. It has not escaped notice that while building out Tudum, Netflix primarily recruited professionals from Global Majority backgrounds. By making such hires, Netflix built cachet for both itself and this new editorial arm – and by making them redundant, with only two weeks redundancy pay, Netflix made it clear how little it actually valued their work.
Kwanda, a modern collection pot designed to connect, support, and encourage individuals giving back to, and building within Black communities ran for three years leading up to its closure in February 2023. Members from around the world collectively funded projects in support of Black communities. And while members celebrated its impact, on closure its founder said: “I’ve struggled to build an operationally sound and sustainable organisation out of Kwanda due to the sheer difficulty of building something new, operational inexperience and a loss of personal motivation and energy.”
Along with all of the difficulties that Global Majority-led organisations and brands have had over the last few years, it’s important to recognise that not all companies have failed to follow up on their pledges. Some have taken concrete actions, such as diversifying their workforce, investing in racial equity programs, or implementing policies to combat discrimination.
In our latest newsletter, we shared a few examples of progress from our clients. Clients like Wellcome Trust, who closed the Wellcome Collection’s signature Medicine Man exhibition because it was racist and ableist.
Or Plan International UK who launched a high profile report looking at the
combined impact of racism and sexism in public street harassment.
Or Santander, who launched a programme specifically focussing women of colour in business after their research showed that women of colour in business face unique systemic challenges (and as a Black female founder, I know this to be true!).
This is not about “best practice” or perfectionism that blocks action.
It’s essential for companies to remain accountable, transparent, and dedicated to their commitments to drive meaningful and lasting change.
And we are here to support organisations who are serious about doing this work.