In late spring 2020, millions of Americans took to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd in police custody. The protesters took up the slogan "Black Lives Matter," and called for greater racial equity in American society. The demonstrations took place across the country, in small towns as well as large cities, eventually exciting protesters internationally as well. Many observers described the three weeks of rallies and marches that followed Floyd's murder as the largest social movement in U.S. history.
Generally, corporations stayed on the sidelines of large social movements, especially ones without a direct economic focus. However, in the case of the Black Lives Matter protests, a large number of corporations and their leaders made a show of support for the demonstrators and the cause of racial equity. Such corporate involvement in a social movement was unprecedented. Many wondered if more empowered stakeholder groups such as customers, employees, and investors had contributed to this display of corporate activism.
This display of corporate solidarity drew its share of critics from both the left and the right as the companies were criticized for both "woke capitalism" and hypocrisy. Might the critics of corporate engagement drown out any benefit that companies received from taking stands that appealed to other stakeholders? How authentic were corporate statements, given many corporations' history of diversity and equity?
Besides solidarity, many corporations also pledged donations to a variety of organizations engaged in securing greater racial equity. There were also pledges to revise certain practices and seek greater diversity in corporate ranks. A few companies made substantial commitments to promote the economic interests of Black people with specific programs to promote Black commerce and wealth accumulation.
But two years on, observers wondered how much difference had the corporate support made toward solving the problems at which it was directed. Had the companies engaged in "virtue signaling" or did the corporate support promise to lead to more substantive improvements? How had their experience with Black Lives Matter shaped corporate policies? Should the stands the companies took in 2020 influence how they engaged both state and society?
Suggested Citation: Jaan Elias and Ivana Katic, "Corporate Response to Black Lives Matter," Yale Case 21-017, March 21, 2022