As demonstrations continue across the United States and around the world in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, a number of celebrities, brands, and businesses have taken to social media to express both their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and their commitment to helping fight systemic racism. But while speaking up about important issues like these is important, many have questioned whether or not these statements of solidarity actually provide meaningful support Black Americans, citing how corporate America has repeatedly failed to address the role it plays in perpetuating inequality.
Devised by designer Aurora James, founder of the NYC–based footwear label Brother Vellies, the 15 Percent Pledge challenges major retailers to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting the Black community. In an Instagram post that has garnered over 30,000 likes, James called upon corporations to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelf space to Black–owned businesses.
“[Black people] represent 15% of the population and we need to represent 15% of your shelf space,” James wrote. “So many of your businesses are built on Black spending power. So many of your stores are set up in Black communities. So many of your sponsored posts are seen on Black feeds. This is the least you can do for us.”
The post called out retail giants like Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, and Sephora, asking them to take stock of the percentage of shelf–space and contracts they devote to Black–owned businesses, to take ownership of where they’re at—ideally publicly, and to design a concrete strategy for fulfilling the promise of the pledge.
Taking the pledge, James writes, is one thing that retailers can do to help fight for economic equality: “Investors for the very first time will start actively seeking [Black–owned businesses] out. Small businesses can turn into bigger ones. Real investment will start happening in Black businesses which will subsequently be paid forward into our Black communities.”
On June 10, Sephora became the first business named by James to announce their participation in the 15 Percent Pledge. “We’re joining @15percentpledge and @aurorajames,” the retailer wrote in an Instagram post, “We recognize how important it is to represent Black businesses and communities, and we must do better.” Sephora also outlined their plan of action, including their intent to focus their Accelerate program—an internal project dedicated to building a community of female founders in the beauty industry—on women of color.
As the 15 Percent Pledge continues to capture national attention, James has started both a website and an Instagram page, as well as a petition that people can sign to put pressure on retailers to institute tangible changes. The other retailers identified by James in her initial post have yet to step up to the plate. However, as the public continues to pressure big businesses to promote and embrace diversity in their choice of products, we can hope that more companies will follow suit.
While enacting the 15 Percent Pledge will not be an easy task, James argues that this sort of major overhaul is necessary. “I will get phone calls that this is too direct, too big of an ask, too this, too that. But I don’t think it’s too anything, in fact I think it’s just a start. You want to be an ally? This is what I’m asking for.”