Everything is exaggerated in 2020. It wasn’t just a typical flu season, it was a coronavirus pandemic that is attacking the world like The Plague. Bad cops are captured on video killing a black man over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill and suddenly Defund the Police is the cry from social justice activists. Now angry employees are emboldened to make demands on major corporations and the corporations are caving.
Two recent examples of employees demanding social justice activism from their employers come from Adidas and Estee Lauder. Sneakers and make-up. In light of the George Floyd protests, employees of both companies demand more than sympathetic corporate social media posts.
First, let’s look at Adidas. A group of black employees told the Wall Street Journal about some grievances – dismissed complaints of racism, a potential design incorporating the Confederate flag, and a former coworker who used the N-word. Also, there is anger that neither Adidas’s executive team nor the board has any black people. Part of the anger stems from the fact that the company “courts” black customers. They sent a presentation to executives titled “Our State of Emergency” which included two demands – 1) boost black and Latino representation at all levels of the company to 31% by the end of 2021 and 2) make a $50 million yearly donation to black U.S. communities.
An Adidas footwear designer posted a story on Instagram. And the company responded that they were working on some changes.
Recent statements “don’t necessarily align with how anybody feels internally about the things that [Adidas] does to help support black people,” said Aric Armon, an Adidas footwear designer in Portland, Ore.
On Sunday, Mr. Armon publicly shared a story on Instagram, where he said a former Adidas co-worker called him the N-word during a trip to the Super Bowl in Miami this February. The former co-worker said he wouldn’t comment on the post until he meets with Mr. Armon and Adidas’s human-resources department.
Adidas hires black people to help it “connect with the black consumer,” said Mr. Armon, who has worked at the company for seven years. In his experience, though, it has been difficult for black people to advance at Adidas. “It really becomes evident that we’re just kind of there for our insights and not necessary for leadership,” he said in an interview Monday.
Adidas declined to comment about individual employees or executives. “We recognize that we have not done enough, and we are dedicated to doing more,” the company said in response to the general employee backlash. “We are close to finalizing our commitments to ensure our people, most importantly our black employees, are heard, supported and involved in solutions.”
Yesterday Adidas announced it has agreed to donate $20 million to black communities over the next four years and to hire black and Latino people for 30% of new U.S. jobs. (African-Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population, Latinos almost 17%.)
The second company making changes to placate employees is Estee Lauder. This story is a little more dramatic and has a Trump connection. More than 100 Estee Lauder employees are demanding that heir and board member Ronald Lauder be removed. (He is also President of the World Jewish Congress.) His offense? He supports President Trump. Since 2016 Lauder has donated over $1.6M to organizations that support President Trump. The employees sent a letter to Chairman William Lauder. This isn’t something new – Lauder has been a longtime Republican, going back to the Reagan years.
“Ronald Lauder’s involvement with the Estee Lauder Companies is damaging to our corporate values, our relationship with the Black community, our relationship with this company’s Black employees, and this company’s legacy,” the letter said.
Among their grievances are Lauder’s political contributions to President Trump. The son of founders Estee and Joseph Lauder, Ronald Lauder, 76, is a longtime Republican, having served as a diplomat under Ronald Reagan before running for mayor of New York in the 1980s and losing to Rudy Giuliani. Since rejoining Estee Lauder’s board of directors in 2016, he has made more than $1.6 million in political contributions to pro-Trump organizations, according to federal disclosures.
The company quickly threw Lauder under the bus and released a statement saying hey, he doesn’t represent all of us.
Ronald Lauder couldn’t be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Estee Lauder said the organization respects everyone’s right to make their own political decisions and that his views don’t represent that of the company.
“This week, several employees asked whether a single member of the Lauder family and our board, represents the views of our company,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “The answer is no.”
There is a petition, too, calling for the removal of Lauder. It asks the Estée Lauder Companies to increase its donation to $5 million (up from $1M) to “organizations providing education and advocacy for social, economic, and racial justice”, and remove Ronald Lauder from the Board. The group accuses Lauder’s personal donations of going to “state-sanctioned violence.” Hoo boy.
So, Monday the changes that will be made were announced. They are 1) hire more black employees until it reaches parity with the makeup of the U.S. population 2) more than double sourcing from black sellers and 3) donate $10 million to racial justice organizations (up from the $1M initial pledge.)
These are two major corporations agreeing to an employment quota system. In order to pacify social activists in their employment, instead of telling them to hit the bricks if they don’t like how the company is run, the companies take a knee to them. What about hiring people who are most qualified? This is the re-emergence of affirmative action.
The Estee Lauder Instagram account posted “Change is coming, and it is necessary. We will be a part of it.” It pledges more transparency and says it will continue to reveal data regarding the percentage of its “People of Color and Black” employees. The company’s website posted a letter today that was sent to employees on June 7. The specifics are listed at length in the letter.
We have all taken time recently to grapple with the systemic racial injustice that has plagued the United States for far too long…We are a company committed to living our values and we are proud of the overall progress and commitment we have made to inclusion and diversity, but we also recognize that we have much more work to do in order to accomplish greater results.
As promised, we are following up with the next steps we will be taking in the United States that have been informed by your invaluable feedback. Some of these actions will be immediate, others will take some time, but all will be impactful.
A few of these actions are accelerations of programs that are already in place, while others are completely new, and all reflect our history of constant improvement.
Will Ronald Lauder keep his position on the board? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.