Today is the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was aided and abetted by officers Tou Thao, Thomas K. Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng. It’s a heavy day in American history that reminds us all of how much work we have to do to dismantle the systems of oppression that are a matter of life or death for Black people in our country.
To say that change is overdue is an understatement. America is built on centuries of systemic racism that won’t disappear overnight. Last year, Floyd’s murder sparked demands for racial equity and racial justice, sending a ripple effect of pledges and promises to “do better” from all sectors of our country. White people made commitments to examine their subconscious biases, to educate themselves and their families, and to become actively anti-racist. Institutions and companies vowed to hire more Black people, to ensure equal pay for their Black employees, to offer better support to their Black team members, and to oust leaders that weren’t actively anti-racist.
To celebrate George Floyd’s life, and commemorate the date of his death, his family is naming the date The Day of Enlightenment. By selling apparel, raising funds, and awareness, they are hoping to financially support members of marginalized communities to overcome racially entrenched socioeconomic barriers. As we approach the one-year mark after the 15 Percent Pledge, we’re looking at how these companies are following through on their commitments, and their role in the fight for economic and racial justice.
In theory, all of these “promises” offer hope for actual, measurable change. But how much change was really created? The optimistic half of our brains are keeping our fingers crossed that organizations upheld or even exceeded their commitments, while the less optimistic or perhaps pragmatic half is prepared for another year of empty promises left unfulfilled. While we can’t (yet) track the actions that followed every black square post on Instagram, in this blog post, we’re going to look at one pledge in particular -- the 15 Percent Pledge -- and hold its partners accountable for the actions they promised to take.
THE 15 PERCENT PLEDGE
The 15 Percent Pledge, created by Brooklyn-based Creative Director Aurora James on June 1, 2020, is a call-to-action for major retailers to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses on an open-ended timeline. The Pledge offers a quantifiable, tangible target for companies that are looking to take concrete steps towards dismantling systemic racism. Also, since nearly 15% of the American population is Black, it seems like a bare minimum that is long overdue. James stresses that in order to create lasting change, companies need to completely re-evaluate their business models. “Inclusion and representation are the floor, not the ceiling, and so much work needs to happen internally for these corporations to address the years of systemic racism that has existed across these industries”, says James. The team behind the Pledge also offers support for and collaboration with partner companies because, as James notes, “approaching diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at a large retailer like Macy’s is going to look different than it will at smaller retailers.” One of the goals of the 15 Percent Pledge is to move beyond one-time philanthropic donations towards more lasting change that will have a long-term impact on Black-owned businesses.
SO, HAVE THE PLEDGE’S SIGNATORIES DELIVERED?
Fourteen days after Aurora James established the Pledge, Sephora became the first retailer to commit 15% of its shelf space to Black-owned businesses. As of June 2020, when Sephora took the Pledge, just nine out of its 290 brands were Black-owned, amounting to only 3.1% of its shelf space. That’s pretty bleak. In the past year it has added 18 brands, four of them Black-owned, and Black-owned businesses now occupy 4.2% of Sephora’s shelf space. Assuming Sephora continues to increase the percentage of Black-owned businesses on its shelves at this rate of 35% year-over-year, it will achieve the 15 Percent Pledge by the end of 2025. If you’re wondering why Sephora can’t move faster or why it didn’t add more Black-owned businesses to its shelves in the past year, we’re with you. It’s important to note, however, that Sephora is a HUGE retailer (it generated $5.9 billion of retail sales in 2019), which means that there are likely a lot of internal bureaucratic processes that make it less nimble, and also more influential, than a smaller brand.
As part of its larger DEI efforts, Sephora said it would evolve its existing incubation programs to focus on women of color, and provide connections between Black-owned businesses and potential venture capitalist funders. Like many other retailers, Sephora has also launched a new tab on its website highlighting the Black-owned brands it stocks so that customers can more easily find these products.
In recent news, on May 17, 2021, Sephora Canada announced its commitment to reaching 25% BIPOC-owned brands by 2026. Sephora Canada tailored this commitment to reflect Canada’s diverse population, which is made up of 22.3% of self-identified visible minorities.
While there is still a LONG way to go, we’re happy to report that Sephora continues to deliver incremental improvement towards its pledge.
In October 2020, Macy’s became the largest retailer to take the 15 Percent Pledge. In February of this year, in celebration of Black History Month, Macy’s debuted 16 new Black-owned brands, including Adjourn Teahouse, Coco Michele and Puzzle Huddle. As part of its larger DEI efforts, Macy’s is also working to improve the professional development and educational opportunities available to Black people in the U.S. (Ok, a bit nebulous, but we’re listening…)
During the month of February, the retailer also offered customers the option to round-up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar amount and donate the change (up to $0.99) to benefit Black Girls CODE and UNCF. Hmm... do you see what we see? Black History Month is incredibly important to celebrate, but it’s also when we’re on the lookout for companies who jump into the conversation at a crucial time of year and then dip out for the remaining eleven months. Kinda like when fast-fashion brands shout “We Love the Planet!” from the rooftops on Earth Day, despite continuing to dump millions of tons of textile waste into the landfills each year. This one smells especially fishy because Macy’s is asking customers, many of whom are already struggling financially due to pandemic-related job-loss, to donate their money through Macy’s, which will ultimately take credit for the fundraising. While it’s awesome that Macy’s is enabling customers to easily donate, we’d like to see the retailer itself putting its money where its mouth is.
It’s great that such an influential institution in the retail industry is backing the 15 Percent Pledge, but Macy’s has a really long way to go to get to 15% Black-owned shelf space. Upon digging into its brand representation, we found that its website has 753 items tagged under “Black Owned Inclusive Brand,” which includes items in the Beauty, Bed + Bath, Handbags + Accessories, Home, Jewelry, Kids & Baby, Men, Men’s Shoes, and Women categories. When you broaden the scope to “All brands,” this same group of categories contains at least 175,151 items total. From this data, we are concluding that, at most, less than .5% of Macy’s shelf space is dedicated to Black-owned brands. Yikes.
To be clear, we are not discouraging any brand from taking the 15 Percent Pledge, or shaming any company that has to start from square one. But, we don’t think Macy’s deserves bragging rights for adding 16 new Black-owned brands to its assortment and asking customers to donate on its behalf.
WHAT ABOUT COMPANIES THAT DIDN’T TAKE THE PLEDGE?
Taking the 15 Percent Pledge is step one and we’re thrilled to see that Sephora, Macy’s, MedMen, Rent the Runway, Bloomingdale’s, West Elm, Madewell, CB2, Crate & Barrel, Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Moda Operandi, and Kith (among others) have committed to this goal. But that’s a tiny cross-section of the American retail industry. Which companies haven't signed on?
The 15 Percent Pledge has repeatedly called for Target’s support over the last year, but the retailer has refused to commit. Instead, Target has turned its attention to other initiatives. Last year, it announced a $10 million investment in long-standing partners such as the National Urban League and the African American Leadership Forum. For context, Black people in the U.S. spend more than $10 million per day with Target, and its CEO, Brian Cornell, took home twice that much in 2020. The more you know, the more this investment reads like an insult rather than like a good deed.
In April of this year, yet again side-stepping the 15 Percent Pledge, Target announced plans to spend $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025. This announcement has ironically put a big bullseye on the retailer’s back.
Target’s $2 billion commitment, which will take place over the course of four years, will go toward marketing and construction provided by Black-owned businesses, as well as an accelerator program. On Target’s expense sheet, costs like marketing and construction fall under the category “operating costs.” In 2020 alone, Target’s operating costs amounted to $22.7 billion. If $2 billion over four years works out to $500 million each year, you can see why people are calling out Target for not doing enough. Even if the entire $2 billion investment went towards Black-owned businesses in Target’s operating costs, then Target would be investing just over 2% of its operating costs into Black-owned businesses.
So what about this accelerator program? Target plans on using part of its $2 billion investment to mentor and support Black entrepreneurs through a new accelerator program called Forward Founders. Target’s goal is to provide Black entrepreneurs with the education and resources required to get to market at a great enough scale to supply massive retailers, like Target. The program sounds awesome and we are genuinely rooting for its success. Investing in building Black-owned businesses is just as important as sourcing from them, and Target argues that their accelerator program could actually create a more lasting impact than simply sourcing from more Black-owned brands. But at the end of the day, the dollar amount that the company is investing is a drop in the bucket compared to its annual sales, which was a whopping $92.4 billion in 2020. Earlier this year, Target also announced that it’s allocating $4 billion per year to speed up shipping, making the $2 billion investment look even more paltry. Not sure about you, but we’d rather double down on systems of equity rather than on another Prime-like shipping option that’s likely going to instead double down on the emissions associated with getting purchases to customers.
Going back to this $2 billion investment, in Target’s Instagram announcement on the topic, it said that it is planning to “add products from 500+ Black-owned brands” across its assortment. But the corporate initiative states that it will actually “increase the number of products from Black-owned businesses to more than 500 across…stores and online”. Target offers hundreds of thousands of products, and we’re supposed to be impressed by an increase of 500 new ones from Black-owned businesses? This type of misleading communication tactic rings a bell. On top of this, Target’s Black-owned/Black-founded website highlight features 767 products, 148 of which are from SheaMoisture, a Black-founded business that is now owned by...Unilever (which is currently led by a White man in case you were wondering).
There’s a lot going on here that just doesn’t sit right with us, and we’re calling on Target to do better.
While some businesses are moving the needle in a really positive and expedient way, we regret to inform you that the pessimistic half of our brain has gotten louder. These are just a few examples related to a single pledge, but many other businesses are seemingly falling short.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Today, as we celebrate the Day of Enlightenment, we are not only commemorating George Floyd, but also the importance of awareness and attention to the pervasive injustices perpetrated against vulnerable populations. Privilege is the ability to ignore injustice, so to achieve collective liberation, we need to encourage continued recognition, reflection, and growth. As an individual, this means active anti-racism, support of racial equity, but also maintaining pressure on companies to follow through on their commitments. You can take stock of your own spending power. If you eat out (or order in) a lot, how many times a week are you supporting Black-owned restaurants? How many products in your beauty routine are made by Black-owned businesses? If you need something new, could you take a moment to find a version of that product made from a Black-owned brand? Investigate your spending habits and try to commit to spending at least 15% of your monthly budget with Black-owned businesses.
WHAT DOES FINCH DO?
Our definition of “sustainability” includes equity, economy, and environment. It’s great that there are more Certified Organic options on the market these days, but if there isn’t equitable access to goods made by Black-owned businesses or a seismic shift that dismantles the systems of oppression in our nation, we’re only solving one piece of the puzzle. That’s why we track whether a business is Black- and BIPOC-owned in our rating system. If you want to learn more about our current DEI commitments, check it out here.