Corporations Try to Exploit the Black Lives Matter Movement

In response to massive protests, riots, and ongoing fights against racist police brutality, companies and banks are posting public relations messages and publishing letters from CEOs. They’re revising their “diversity goals” and pointing to all the money they’ve donated to police reform measures or to support Black businesses.

The pent-up rage at the violence and racism of this society is erupting in the streets. None of these problems will lessen because of a few messages from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, Citibank, and Starbucks. To them, this is another chance to profit off a crisis: to position themselves in a better place to capture the market and gain favor with consumers.

No one is being fooled. Amazon’s claim that it “stands in solidarity with the Black community” rings hollow, after its firing and slandering of Chris Smalls, a Black worker in New York who was a leader of COVID safety walkouts in April. Or after the billions of dollars of legally sanctioned looting they do every day. The billions they claim as profits is really the unpaid labor of exploited workers, including Black workers and other workers of color.

Amazon’s real solidarity is with the police: they’ve developed facial recognition and tracking technology, handed over data from video doorbells to police departments (and helped Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and even directly raised funds for police departments through their charity wing. Part of Amazon’s reaction to the movement against racist police violence has been to issue a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology. So they’ve committed to a one-year break, not a permanent one, nor an admission that the technology is racist.

Other corporations have different tactics, touting their support of police reforms, or their donations to Black businesses. For example, Microsoft received a grant from the Justice Department to create an online tool to distribute more equitable fines and has donated hundreds of thousands to police trainings on “emotional intelligence.” Microsoft is just as guilty as Amazon at helping the state dole out fines and enforce injustice.

When “Black Lives Matter” first became a slogan from protestors in 2013 and 2014 around the killings of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, almost no companies felt the need to react to these protests by declaring that they believe that Black lives matter. Today, they feel the need to respond, which is one indicator of the strength and depth of these uprisings.

Corporations and banks have the platforms and wealth that they do from exploiting Black workers. They rely on keeping racial hierarchies, and they all need the police to protect their status and wealth. After all, why would any of us put up with the system they’ve set up if we weren’t forced to? They steal from us every day, and we’re right to stand up against them, and call them out on the hypocrisy of their empty words. We must not let them get away with it.