Tech Firms Ought to Take BLM Extra Severely

(TNS) — Last year, as protesters flooded streets across the country over the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and several other unarmed Black men and women, many tech companies decided to publicly show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

This included promises to change workplace culture and increase diversity among staff, grand displays of donating millions of dollars to the NAACP and visibly highlighting “Black Lives Matter” slogans on their respective websites.

Many of these gestures gained media traction and earned public goodwill for the companies involved. But, a year later, their promises to affect change largely haven’t materialized in the form of tangible results. As a distracted public shifted its attention to other major events (the presidential election, Jan. 6 insurrection, COVID reopening and mass shootings come to mind), tech companies, too, lost track of — or set aside — meeting the robust goals they originally set forth.


According to a recent report from recruiting platform Blendoor, several companies have laid off more minority employees than they’ve hired, despite rhetoric pledging to do the opposite. Out of 110 companies cited in the report, those that made a #BlackLivesMatter pledge have 20% fewer Black employees on average than companies that did not make the pledge. There are still no Black women named executive officers in the 240 tech companies analyzed by Blendoor.

In other cases, companies have sold surveillance technology to law enforcement. Amazon, which very publicly added “Black Lives Matter” to the banner of its website during the protests, was found to have sold its facial recognition software, Rekognition, to law enforcement in 2018.

It was only after backlash from civil rights groups and a letter from IBM to legislators condemning using facial recognition software for mass surveillance that Amazon announced its ban on providing that technology to police. While Amazon has stated it hoped the ban would give “Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules,” there’s nothing stopping it from lobbying for more ethical technology practices on its own and pledging to stop supplying law enforcement permanently. The company has also come under fire recently for discrimination and retaliation lawsuits by women who worked in both corporate and warehouse positions.

This isn’t what accountability looks like.

There still hasn’t been a full external auditing of all the companies that made racial justice pledges, or reports showing exactly how and where all the money committed to equity justice issues was spent. This needs to happen.

It’s disappointing to see these promises remain broken, much like the justice system when it comes to prosecuting violent police misconduct. Showing solidarity demands more than just making vague statements about a commitment to diversity.

There needs to be follow-through.

Companies serious about making a larger impact can renew their commitment to Black lives by supporting legislation, like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021.

Sponsored by Los Angeles Rep. Karen Bass, the bill is aimed at combating police misconduct and racial bias. Besides restricting the transfer of military equipment to local police departments and qualified immunity for police officers, the bill would also prohibit officers from using choke holds (which killed Eric Garner) and the issuance of “no-knock warrants” in federal drug investigations (which led to the death of Taylor).

Companies that throw their support behind these measures will undoubtedly draw the ire of some customers as well as politicians. Several law enforcement organizations have opposed the bill, as has former President Donald Trump, who pushed back on the efforts to prevent restricting qualified immunity, stalling negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

Historically, law enforcement organizations have played a powerful role in hindering police reform bills. If Congress is serious about changing police practices and accountability, then it cannot continue to be swayed by the lobbying of law enforcement. And neither can the companies that publicly displayed their commitment to Black lives in the heat of last year’s protests.

For tech companies, supporting legislation with a social justice framework would go a lot further than just pledging money. It would show their employees and consumers that they are serious about improving Black lives in a tangible way. This support needs to be coupled with a true commitment to promotion, retention and mentoring of Black employees.

It’s past time for companies to show that Black lives matter more to them than just a trending hashtag.

©2021 San Francisco Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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