raceAhead: Levi Strauss, Nike, and Corporate Activism

September 6, 2018, 7:23 PM UTC

Taking a stand is risky.

Consider this extraordinary op-ed (yes, opinion pieces are all the rage now) written by Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh and shared exclusively with Fortune. Bergh is putting the company’s money and reputation on the line to end gun violence, and he’s calling for other CEOs to join him. I encourage you to read and amplify it.

He begins with the backlash he experienced in 2016 when he asked customers not to bring guns into their stores or facilities after a customer injured himself when his gun discharged while trying on a pair of jeans. “In the days after I published that letter, I received threats to our stores, our business, and even on my life,” he says, unsettling, but nothing compared with what survivors of mass shootings live with on a daily basis. To that end, he’s made a decision to do more. “We can’t take on every issue,” he says. “But as business leaders with power in the public and political arenas, we simply cannot stand by silently when it comes to the issues that threaten the very fabric of the communities where we live and work.”

Nike took a similarly controversial stand this week when it released a two-minute ad starring unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The “Dream Crazy” video is part of a broader merchandise partnership with the activist athlete, which makes him the face of the 30th anniversary of Nike’s famous “Just Do It” campaign. If the gear sells well, it will put Kaepernick back in the game, albeit still off the gridiron. The company will also donate to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign, aimed at supporting youth of color.

The ad first drew shrugs from President Trump, Kaepernick’s most vocal hater, then jeers. “Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts,” he tweeted. “As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!”

Some former Nike customers have also decried the decision, launching a #boycottNike hashtag and tweeting pictures of themselves shredding their logo’d gear or burning their sneakers. The company’s share price tumbled some 3.2% before working its way back.

Ford, a sponsor of the NFL, has also weighed in on the ongoing player protests. “We respect individuals’ rights to express their views, even if they are not ones we share,” the company said this week.“That’s part of what makes America great.”

I do not expect to see any F-150s set ablaze.

But regardless of the spectacles that follow displays of corporate courage—or your personal willingness to forego football, jeans, sneakers or trucks—it’s important to note how seriously employees and customers view public displays of corporate values.

The latest Social Media and Leadership survey from BRANDfog, a consulting firm that measures the digital reputations of CEOs, and McPherson Strategies confirms what followers of Fortune’s CEO Initiative already know: Leaders need to lead authentically and out loud.

Some 93% of respondents agreed with the statement, “When CEOs issue statements about the key social issues of our time and I agree with the sentiment, I am more likely to make a purchase from that company.” But, it’s risky. Some 84% said that if the CEO issues a statement that they do not agree with, they are less likely to buy from them. But most seem to concede the bigger point—86% of people agreed that CEOs who publicly defend the rights of others on social media are seen as great leaders.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” says Colin Kaepernick in the “Dream Crazy” ad voiceover.

Levi Strauss is one of a growing number of brands who are continuing to accept these risks.

They’ve established the Safer Tomorrow Fund, which will direct more than $1 million in grants to youth activists and non-profits working to end gun violence, and are working with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to form Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety. Bergh calls it “a coalition of business leaders who believe, as we do, that business has a critical role to play in and a moral obligation to do something about the gun violence epidemic in this country.”

While these are hopeful moments in dark times, I know the work behind the scenes is real. But, as Bergh says, “While taking a stand can be unpopular with some, doing nothing is no longer an option.”

On Point

Consensual adult gay sex is no longer a crime in IndiaNot only that, the Supreme Court in New Delhi ruled today that sexual orientation is a perfectly natural element of human existence over which people have no control. It is a direct refutation of the British-era statute, Section 377, which criminalized gay sex. "Consensual sex between adults in a private space, which is not harmful to women and children, cannot be denied as a result of individual choice. Section 377 results in discrimination and is violative of constitutional principles,” said the court. Looking forward to the happy updates from all the employee resource groups across India.Times of India

Where are all the disabled fashion models?
Often overlooked in the diversity-in-fashion debate are people with disabilities, people who already live under the weight of burdensome inquiries into their bodies. “The eyes on me are unforgiving; some people even go as far as making snide remarks when I pass by,” says Keah Brown, a writer and activist with cerebral palsy. She profiles three fashion models with disabilities who are challenging norms about beauty while living the dream of fabulosity. “[T]he more their stars rise, the more they are in front of judgmental eyes as they reach a wider audience and an industry that doesn’t quite know what to do with the disabled celebrity,” she writes. Click through for a lesson on representation and some gorgeous photos.
Teen Vogue

A delicious prank exposes lack of Asian representation in advertising
Jehv Maravilla, a 21-year-old University of Houston student, likes to eat at McDonald’s. He was there so often that he noticed that there no shiny posters of happy Asian people enjoying the fast food hanging on the walls. So, he and his friend, Christian Toledo, both Filipino-American, decided to do something about it. They created a professional-looking poster of their own, starring themselves, and hung it on the wall of their favorite McD’s. More than 50 days went by and nobody said a thing—until Maravilla tweeted about the stunt. “Asian representation in media is not as prevalent as it should be,” Maravilla said, saying that the success of Crazy Rich Asians inspired him. They also documented the prank on YouTube. While the poster is excellent, capitalism is weird, yo.

The Woke Leader

An American dream with free refills
In 1964, Othea Loggan began his Great Migration from Mississippi, where he grew up poor, one of ten kids, to Chicago for a better life. He began by bussing tables and washing dishes at Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Wilmette. His brother-in-law, a cook, helped him get the job. He is now 72. He has the same job, at the same low pay, with the same two-hour commute each way. Why? “Because the more you talk to Othea Loggan, and the more you think about clearing plates of pancakes for half of a century, the more details seem both too obvious and too complicated—there are few satisfying explanations.” Click through for this extraordinary story.
Chicago Tribune

Arresting homeless people for sleeping outside is cruel and unusual
Do people lose their constitutional rights when they lose their homes? In an attempt to deter homeless people from sleeping outdoors, communities in Idaho have been passing laws that criminalize sleeping or camping in public places. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice weighed in on a particular Idaho case in 2015, saying that punishing people for sleeping outdoors when there was insufficient shelter space was a violation of their Eighth Amendment rights. The case in question was a lawsuit brought by six homeless individuals regarding their arrests in Boise; a recent decision from by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed part of the judgment against the city of Boise and allowed two of the six to seek damages. The decision, below, reveals a detailed snapshot of the fraught lives of homeless people and the kinds of organizations that struggle to provide even the most threadbare shelter.

Europe needs their own NAACP
And Larry Olomoofe, a DJ turned civil rights activist, is determined to create one. He's currently building an organization that uses a legal activist strategy to defend the rights of black Europeans, and he’s turned himself into a legal expert of sorts, though unencumbered by actual legal training. “The people I have the biggest challenge with about applying the law are lawyers because they go by precedents or common practice,” he says. The London-native, who now is based in Warsaw, is seeking inspiration from the U.S. civil rights movement. His plan is to get jurisdictions across Europe to uphold the rights of black people across the continent, whether they are new immigrants or generations-long citizens. Click through to learn more about, PADLINK (People of African Descent-Link)


There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police. So that's a large part of it and they're government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that's something that this country has to change. There's things we can do to hold them more accountable. Make those standards higher.
Colin Kaepernick

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