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Uber has agreed to a civil rights audit, but will the results lead to any social change?

May 10, 2022, 7:57 PM UTC

Yesterday the ride-share and delivery giant announced plans to launch a civil rights audit of their business. The announcement comes after extended negotiations with activist investors SOC Investment Group, As You Sow, and Friends Fiduciary—and followed a Sunday night email sent by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi warning that cost-cutting and other austerity measures were also coming.

The Uber board’s Nominating and Governance Committee—which includes former Nestle EVP Wan Ling Martello and former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns—will be supervising the audit and are now responsible for hiring an independent auditor with a track record of racial justice work.

It’s a step toward accountability for a company that was once a poster child for tech sector hustle—along with accusations of racism and misogyny, and a steady stream of serious scandals and ethical lapses.

“The company has been riddled with civil rights concerns, including facing a lawsuit from the Justice Department for previously charging ‘wait time’ fees to passengers with disabilities, the glaring absence of Black and Hispanic employees in leadership positions, studies indicating racial discrimination built into Uber’s pricing algorithm, and concerns over how its rating system may be biased against drivers of color,” Tejal Patel, Corporate Governance Director at SOC Investment Group tells raceAhead, via email.

At press time, Uber had not responded to requests for comment.

Calls for a similar audit of Facebook’s practices—including an inability to stave off hate speech and calls for racist violence on the platform—was led by civil rights campaign organization Color of Change and began in earnest in 2017. The report, which was published in 2020 yielded mixed results, at best. But, argues Patel, it was a public document and a clear signal that companies will be held accountable. “[J]ust  last month we won a commitment from Apple to complete an audit after a successful shareholder campaign, and settlements have been reached after substantial shareholder votes in favor of independent audits at JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup.”

Will it make a dent? Is it a new era for Uber? Time will tell.

As You Sow, a non-profit shareholder advocacy firm that encourages environmental and corporate sustainability, challenged Uber’s commitment to anti-racist values in a carefully worded statement. “[We] valued the opportunity to engage with Uber based on their stated commitment of becoming an antiracist organization and their 46% score on our Racial Justice Scorecard,” said Racial Justice Initiative Manager, Olivia Knight of As You Sow, in a public statement.

The hope is that a rising tide of truth will lift all. “Uber’s willingness to share the audit results and continue to work on addressing any areas of concern will serve as an example and an incentive for other corporations to follow in their footsteps.”

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On point

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On Background

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Parting Words

Well, whatever I missed in between, I just missed. I'm never going to catch up. It's impossible. But it was new to me because when I went in, I had a complete family. I had grandmother, grandfathers, aunt. When I came out, I had basically nobody. You know, it was scary because even though I went to college, I got my degrees, I educated myself, transformed myself, I never thought about living as a free man, as an adult. Everything I knew up to that point was as a child in prison.

David Luis “Suave” Gonzalez, who entered the prison system at age 17

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