Corporate activism in the age of racial justice
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business model that emerged in the 1950s that asks corporations to hold themselves accountable for their social impact on stakeholders. While CSR began as a largely self-regulating model, the concept has expanded to the idea of corporate activism, in which private entities are often expected to occupy spaces traditionally delegated to social movements. An example of this relationship emerged in the summer of 2020 when brands were responsible for commenting on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement as the country reckoned with systemic racial injustices following several high-profile murders of Black individuals. This thesis seeks to explore the relationship between major brands and the BLM movement in order to understand why corporations as non-human entities were expected to respond to the movement, as well as to define the scope of corporate racial activism tactics. Specifically, I will base my research on sociological and critical race theory scholarship to question whether corporate racial activism should be considered ethical and if neoliberal values provide an authentic platform for these actions. My methodology will involve comparative case studies examining the history, organizational structure, consumer demographics, and racial activism tactics of five of the U.S.' most profitable corporations across different sectors. Finally, this thesis will discuss the implications of corporate activism in the context of the fight for racial justice and if corporations are the racially neutral entities they often attempt to inhabit.