McDonald’s, Walgreens and the Cubs among companies condemning racism in wake of George Floyd’s death

McDonald’s, Walgreens and the Cubs among companies condemning racism in wake of George Floyd’s death

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While small businesses tend to broken store windows and damaged merchandise amid fallout from George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, brands such as Nike and Amazon are busy weighing in on systemic racism in America.

McDonald’s, Walgreens and the Chicago Cubs are among the Chicago-area companies that have posted social media messages, sent letters to employees and held town halls in recent days denouncing discrimination, and pledging commitments to diversity and inclusiveness.

“When any member of our McFamily hurts, we all hurt,” Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, said in a public LinkedIn post Saturday.

It is not clear if the messages will resonate with customers, employees and a nation reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and more than a week of widespread social unrest, but brands are nonetheless racing to position themselves as champions of social justice.

Chicago-based fast food giant McDonald’s, which faced allegations of “pervasive” racial discrimination in a federal lawsuit filed in January by two former African American executives, addressed "the stain of racism” in both internal and public messaging this week.

In addition to Erlinger’s social media post, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski sent an internal message to employees on Sunday decrying the “intractable hate and ignorance in our society,” and announcing plans for a companywide town hall on racism, which was held Tuesday morning.

“While our McDonald’s System is not perfect, in so many ways we demonstrate the potential of a more inclusive, just and diverse community," Kempczinski said in the message, which was obtained by the Tribune.

Similarly, Stefano Pessina, CEO of Deerfield-based drugstore chain Walgreens, posted a letter Sunday denouncing “hatred, racism, stereotyping and bigotry in any form,” and stating the company’s commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and equal treatment for employees and customers.

A Walgreens spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Taking a stand can help both the company and the cause, according to Myriam Sidibe, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and an expert on the impact of social mission marketing campaigns by brands.

“I believe that brands shape the norms, and they have a lot to say when it comes to stereotyping,” said Sidibe, who previously served as global social mission director for Unilever. “This is a moment where they can actually come out and say the right thing and end stereotypes -- some of the ways that people see people of color.”

Sidibe said people are “just angry” over years of systemic racism, and that anger came to a head when Floyd’s videotaped death was broadcast repeatedly across media platforms, spawning widespread protests.

President Donald Trump’s tweet Friday, which included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” made the situation even more incendiary, Sidibe said, and left it up to business leaders to “appease” the public.

The rush by brands to speak against racism may also have a practical component, Sidibe said, especially if African Americans represent a large part of their customer base.

The messaging can backfire, however, if the companies aren’t truly practicing what they preach regarding social justice, she said.

“You need to walk the talk,” Sidibe said. “It’s not enough to just be able to say ‘I stand for this’ when you‘re not spending some of your resources to be able to do programs on the ground. That’s where the real impact happens.”

On Monday, the Cubs were scheduled to host the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field -- before the season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Wrigleyville served as an impromptu staging ground for protesters speaking out against racism.

That same day, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, whose family owns the Cubs, apologized after referring to African Americans as “you people” during a meeting with community leaders in Omaha.

The Cubs sent an email to employees Monday night from team chairman Tom Ricketts, president of business operations Crane Kenney and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

“We stand in support of black lives, brown lives and all the victims of racism and injustice across the country,” the Cubs executives said in the letter, which was obtained by the Tribune. “We stand alongside associates who choose to use their voice to fight inequality.”

The Cubs also posted a message Tuesday morning on Twitter, condemning racism and decrying violence against African Americans.

“We support peaceful protest and pledge to channel our energies to rebuilding our city, especially the disenfranchised neighborhoods,” the team said.

Hundreds of protesters marched near Wrigley Field on Tuesday afternoon.


PHOTOS: Illinois demonstrations for George Floyd

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker said “community activism and peaceful organizing and faith” are the keys to “real” transformations demanded after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after being pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.

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