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Aussie brands praised and scrutinised after posting about Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter, fight against racism, protest concept

Ben & Jerry’s, L’Oréal, Aesop and Lush are just some of the consumer goods businesses that have posted messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of African-American man George Floyd in police custody last week. 

The tragedy has sparked sweeping protests across the US and around the world nearly seven years after the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was first used in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.

It has also prompted companies to speak out against racism and inequality.

Australian skincare brand Aesop on Tuesday shared the names of nine African-American men, women and children who had been killed in recent years, in most cases by police officers, and said it would donate US$100,000 to organisations that fight racial injustice and promote opportunities for black people. 

“If systematic racism is to be defeated, we all need to stay educated, become involved and understand our role in both the problems, and the solutions,” the skincare brand wrote in an Instagram post. 

US ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s released a damning statement in relation to police brutality on Wednesday, calling for an end to white supremacy.

“Unless and until white America is willing to collectively acknowledge its privilege, take responsibility for its past and the impact it has on the present, and commit to creating a future steeped in justice, the list of names that George Floyd has been added to will never end,” the statement read.

Global FMCG leaders from Mondelez International chairman and CEO Dirk Van de Put to PepsiCo boss Ramon Laguarta have also shared their thoughts on the matter to Linkedin and Twitter.

These posts have garnered thousands of likes and largely positive comments. One commenter wrote in response to Aesop: “Makes me feel proud to buy your products. Thank you.”

Many brands in Australia and around the world also participated in #BlackoutTuesday, a social media campaign which saw Instagram users post a black square to show that they would refrain from posting any other content that day and would use the time educating themselves on issues facing the black community.

But not all corporate messages have been welcomed, with some consumers calling out brands for not taking meaningful action, or worse, seeking good PR when actually they’re part of the problem.

L’Oréal Paris caused a stir on Tuesday when it posted a statement to Instagram under an image post with the words, “Speaking out is worth it”.

“L’Oréal Paris stands in solidarity with the Black community, and against injustice of any kind. We are making a commitment to the @naacp to support progress in the fight for justice. #BlackLivesMatter,” the post read.

The statement was met with much anger as users pointed to the company’s dismissal of model and transgender activist Munroe Bergdorf in 2017. Bergdorf was fired days after joining the company over comments she made on Facebook relating to the killing of a protestor in Charlottesville by a white supremacist, according to The Guardian.

“You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy. With no duty of care, without a second thought,” Bergdorf posted on Twitter in response to the statement.

London-based writer and stylist Aja Barber has also called out brands in an Instagram post on Wednesday for what she said is “capitalising on black pain”. ⁣

“We see you capitalising on the death of yet another black person. Using it to pad your social media and keep yourself relevant in the algorithm,” she wrote.

“But here’s the thing, if you’re being abusive to marginalized people behind the scenes you’re performative and in many ways part of the problem because you don’t actually value us … or our lives. ⁣I don’t want your solidarity if you’re refusing to pay garment workers and causing heartache and strife for folks.”

Let’s be clear, this is all about marketing

Louise Grimmer, a senior lecturer at University of Tasmania’s business school, said these responses are to be expected.

“For many brands weighing into controversial topics would be a strategy that would be an unexpected and perhaps even an unwelcome move for their customers,” the marketing expert told Inside FMCG

“If a brand has a track record of taking a stand on controversial issues, and there are many that do, then I think that sort of approach sits more comfortably with consumers. Otherwise I think this sort of marketing, and let’s be clear this is all about marketing, rings rather hollow.”

Abas Mirzaei, a lecturer at Macquarie University who has been studying ‘woke’ marketing campaigns for the past two years, agreed that brands should think about what they’re doing internally before making public statements.

“How many of your employees or directors on your board are people of colour? If you have a list of 20 white people out of 20, and then you want to have a conversation about racism, you’re going to face questions,” he said. 

According to a report cited by Business of Fashion, the earned media value of the Black Lives Matter hashtag rose from $173,000 to $63.5 million over the course of the past week.

The financial benefit of aligning a brand with this movement is not lost on consumers, who are quick to denounce corporate campaigns and statements they view as opportunistic.

Mirzaei’s research shows there is one factor that ‘neutralises’ this critique.

“If brands are prepared to make a sacrifice – a proper, reasonable financial sacrifice – they’ll neutralise the corrupt motivation argument,” he said, referring to Nike’s decision to feature ex-football player Colin Kaepernick in a series of campaigns, which led to consumer boycotts.

What about racism in Australia?

Australian brands that have spoken out about racial injustice in recent days have also faced questions about what they’re doing to fight racism locally and why it took a movement in the US for them to say something.

Over the weekend, the local arm of Lush shared a statement from its US sister business about Black Lives Matter on Instagram, and added: “We aren’t immune to racism in Australia.”

Lush ANZ director Peta Granger told Inside FMCG that, in the past, the company used its Charity Pot program and campaigned in-store and online for racial justice, but a few years ago, it started working with local organisations Democracy in Colour and SEED Mob.

“Businesses need to move beyond statements to show genuine solidarity and allyship through action and listening to people of colour with lived experience. We admit that we are late to the table and that, like society, Lush needs to change and do better,” Granger said.

While L’Oréal Australia has not posted in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement this week and did not wish to make a comment when contacted by Inside FMCG, it did address the Stolen Generation in an Instagram post on National Sorry Day, May 26.

The company said it is “committed to respecting human rights both within our business and in all communities where we operate.” The post was met with a largely positive response.

Yatu Widders-Hunt, a director at Cox Inall Ridgeway, and founder of an Instagram account highlighting Indigenous fashion brands, welcomed the wave of support for Indigenous organisations in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, but cautioned that it must be genuine.

“I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from supporting such an important movement. I do however think it’s a good opportunity for brands to reflect on their own values and think about the role they want to play in shaping our society and showing leadership,” Widders-Hunt told Inside FMCG

“Our communities are fighting every single day. I think we want to see consistency and honesty from brands and not feel like they are supporting something because it’s trending. It has to be genuine and part of who they are.”

Additional reporting by Ruth Hogan.

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