Corporate Promises Unkept


Little Rock      George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, way more than a year ago.  The death prompted what may have been the largest collective number of protestors in US history hitting the streets.  The Black Lives Matter Movement refocused interest and commitment on the condition of Black Americans and our unresolved issues around systemic racism that date back to slavery at our founding, the role of police, and other issues. The attention also triggered huge pledges of resources to meet the moment, and perhaps to defuse demands for reparations, including from corporate America.

The Washington Post has now done a public service by looking back on how – and whether – the top fifty corporations kept their promise, and, equally importantly, whether they spent their money to meet the issues that reverberated from Floyd’s death.  The results aren’t pretty.  Here’s the gut punch:

To date, America’s 50 biggest public companies and their foundations collectively committed at least $49.5 billion since Floyd’s murder last May to addressing racial inequality — an amount that appears unequaled in sheer scale. Looking deeper, more than 90 percent of that amount — $45.2 billion — is allocated as loans or investments they could stand to profit from, more than half in the form of mortgages. Two banks — JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America — accounted for nearly all of those commitments.  Meanwhile, $4.2 billion of the total pledged is in the form of outright grants. Of that, companies reported just a tiny fraction — about $70 million — went to organizations focused specifically on criminal justice reform, the cause that sent millions into the streets protesting Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

These companies seem to have simply grabbed a public relations moment, when all eyes were on them, to enhance their brand, not to meet the challenge to respond to the changes that were needed.  Let me repeat, less than 10% for anything related to criminal justice reform, and more than half allowed some of our biggest banks, Chase and Bank of America, to make another buck in the three-card monte they call their business model.  Many of the commitments were also not immediate but stretched over a decade if we and our communities can make it that long.

Of the 50 companies and the $50 billion promised, the commitments are at best a classic example of corporate trickle-down:

37 companies have confirmed disbursing at least $1.7 billion of the $49.5 billion pledged. Seven of the companies that provided data on their racial justice commitments refused to outline how much they had already spent.

The math matters, and it adds up to less than 4% of the money pledged was actually given and received downstream by any groups.

Not to drive the knife in any deeper, but we recently discussed the fact that banks are denying 10% of the mortgages sought by Black families compared to about half of that for white families.  Worse, Chase claimed its commitment was to get 40,000 Black families into homeownership over the next five years.  I wish they had kept 40,000 Black families in homeownership when they were handling Obama’s bank relief package after the Great Recession, rather than foreclosure on many more than that.

This level of impunity by corporate America is only possible when they operate knowing there will never be any accountability.