Nike must be "better than society as a whole" in the fight to stamp out racism and achieve social justice for black communities, its chief executive has said in a letter to staff.
The brand is one of several to speak out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the 25 May killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis that prompted widespread protests across the US and globally.
In a memo to employees on Friday, Nike chief executive John Donahoe announced that the business was committing $40m (£31.5m) over four years to support the black community in the US by investing in and supporting "organizations focused on social justice, education and addressing racial inequality in America".
But he acknowledged that, in order for Nike to effectively advocate for change elsewhere, it must first tackle racism within its own organisaiton.
"While we strive to help shape a better society, our most important priority is to get our own house in order," he wrote. "Simply put, we must continue to foster and grow a culture where diversity, inclusion and belonging is valued and is real. Nike needs to be better than society as a whole. Our aspiration is to be a leader. While we have made some progress over the past couple of years, we have a long way to go."
Nike's latest ad was named Pick of the Week last week by Campaign. Writing in Campaign US, however, New York-based copywriter Lalita Salgaokar argued that the film "completely missed the black perspective".
In 2018, Nike allied itself with the NFL players who chose to protest racism by kneeling during the US national anthem when it recruited Colin Kaepernick, who initiated the protest, to voice the acclaimed "Dream crazy" ad, created by Wieden & Kennedy.
Earlier that year, the NFL had ruled that players were not allowed to kneel during the anthem, after pressure from conservative figures including president Donald Trump to put an end to the practice.
But the league has now acknowledged that it made the wrong call, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell apologising to players for "not listening" on the issue of racism in a video posted on Twitter.
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020
Donahoe's letter continued: "We must capitalise on the passion, energy and commitment that we are feeling right now and translate it into real, sustained effort and concrete progress. We can't simply go back to 'normal', because the normal we knew a week ago, a month ago, a year ago isn't acceptable – not for far too many of us."
There are signs that the protests of the past two weeks are resulting in significant social change. Yesterday, the city council of Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, announced its intention to disband the city's police department and replace it with a new community-led system to support public safety.
This article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign
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