As the Black Lives Matter movement swept the United States earlier this year, corporate America promised to help advance racial equity and justice. But many questioned how business leaders would do that.
On Thursday, the Business Roundtable – a group of executives that run the largest corporations in America – released a report recommending specific ways to combat systemic racism in employment, finance, education, health, housing and the justice system.
“These longstanding systemic challenges have too often prevented access to the benefits of economic growth and mobility for too many,” said Business Roundtable Chairman Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart. “It is our employees, customers and communities who are calling for change, and we are listening – and most importantly – we are taking action.”
The recommendations and commitments from the Business Roundtable, a top business lobbying group, are far-ranging.
In terms of legislative and government efforts, the report calls for an increase in the federal minimum wage, police reforms and better access to affordable childcare and education.
The group is committing to several initiatives aimed at ensuring Black Americans have more access to better jobs by helping to alleviate student debt, focusing more on skills in hiring rather than college degrees, supporting historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), publicly disclosing diversity metrics and doing more to establish pay equity in their ranks.
The group also committed to do more to support Black-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs by providing $1 billion to community lending institutions by 2025 and to create a mentoring system for 50,000 Black and Latino small business owners over the next five years.
And Business Roundtable members are committing to help people of color by reaching more unbanked and underbanked Blacks and Latinos, helping them build credit, and aiming to invest $30 billion to build 200,000 affordable rental units by 2025.
In 2019, the Business Roundtable put out a statement of corporate purpose, which stressed that public companies have an obligation not just to shareholders but to all stakeholders, including employees, customers and their communities. It has been met with skepticism by critics of corporate America, who are tracking the ideals that Business Roundtable members publicly espouse with their actions.
McMillon seems to acknowledge Thursday’s report may be met with the same skepticism in an opinion piece he wrote for USA Today ahead of the report’s release.
“[A]s written, [these initiatives] carry no more weight than the paper they’re printed on. Any power they have will come from the energy, resources and sustained commitment we put behind them – it will take the full weight of business, in cooperation with other leaders, to drive change. But we must act, and we must act now.”