[Note: These are remarks James Quincey prepared and first shared with Coca-Cola employees during a virtual town hall on June 3.]
George Floyd. Killed. A senseless tragedy for him and his family. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Philando Castile. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. All killed. All Black Americans, predominantly male Black Americans. All of whom should be alive today.
I, like you, am outraged, sad, frustrated, angry. Companies like ours must speak up as allies to the Black Lives Matter movement. We stand with those seeking justice and equality.
Reality is that there is still a wound in the fabric of America that is not just not healed – but is being reopened. Racism. It begets violence, it begets death.
It’s nearly 30 years since the video of Rodney King being beaten by police officers shocked the world. At the time, we spoke out. Roberto Goizueta, then-Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, said at an event, “Defending justice, creating economic opportunity and ensuring quality education is more than a noble cause. It is our duty. Nothing we value… our families, homes and businesses…are safe in the face of oppression, poverty and ignorance.”
It is our duty.
Now, with George Floyd’s death, I’ve been reflecting on our duty to Black people in America. Simply put, America hasn’t made enough progress, corporate America hasn’t made enough progress and nor has The Coca-Cola Company.
As a nation and as individuals, we must do better. Businesses like ours can play an important role. As a company that believes diversity and inclusion are among our greatest strengths, we must put our resources and energy toward helping end the cycle of systemic racism.
The company is not perfect. It’s done great things, things to be proud of. From the emblematic to the sustained. From celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., through being the first to have African-Americans in advertising, to providing leaders to work on desegregation, to education, to South Africa, to refranchising to two new African-American entrepreneur-owned U.S. bottlers. One of whom, Troy Taylor, is with us today [as a speaker in the company’s town hall].
And it’s made mistakes, including the grave one with the largest discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history in 1999/2000. As the judge said, our biggest issue was not that we made mistakes and that there were individual cases, but that when we knew, we didn’t act to remedy and improve.
We don’t have all the answers. But I believe that we, together with civic and community advocates, government officials, fellow business leaders, our partners – and with the views and voices of those who challenge injustice – we can find solutions.
Our efforts will focus on four main areas – listening, leading, investing, advocating.
LISTENING: We believe our company and our brands have the power to drive change. And we want to get this right. In order to make progress for those who have been hurt by systemic racism, we need first to listen. We have ideas; we received ideas from employees, and we know that this is the beginning. That’s why we’re spending time listening to employees and seeking their input on meaningful actions we can take, both internal and external. We will seek out the voices and expertise of community leaders and social justice advocates to inform our actions. And we will continue to use multiple forms to continue to listen, to further the actions that we will take to lead, invest and advocate.
LEADING: As a company, we need internally to be an example for corporate America and society overall, otherwise what platform do we have to lead from? We need to take multiple actions. We will renew the mandatory diversity and inclusion training. Also, the company donated the land and helped set up the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, here in Atlanta right next to the World of Coke, but how many of us have visited it? We all need to go and spend time there. It’s four years since we had the first [internal company] Stand As One conversation following a similar death. Taking one measure – representation of African-Americans as a percentage of our U.S. employees – we’ve made mixed progress. In the total numbers, we’re up 3 points to 19%, ahead of overall country [population]. But in leadership positions, grade 14-plus, we are flat, at a poor 7%. We need to be more effective in making progress. So we’re appointing leaders in our business to drive the development and implementation of additional business actions.
INVESTING: We will invest our resources to advance social justice causes. We will use the voices of our brands to weigh in on important social conversations. For example, today we are announcing $2.5 million in grants from The Coca-Cola Foundation for the Equal Justice Initiative to assist advocates and policymakers in the critically important work of criminal justice reform; the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in support of the “Policing Reform Campaign;” and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to deliver a platform to bring people together for powerful conversations that matter and inspire social change and their current “Campaign for Equal Dignity.” In addition, we will match employee donations to these initiatives, as well as contributions to the 100 Black Men of America and the National CARES Mentoring Movement. Starting with me.
ADVOCATING: Together with our bottling system, we will work through our business network to support change and embrace policies that matter, starting with publicly supporting legislation to advance a hate-crimes law in Georgia. We also will continue to support collective actions and pledges across the business community, such as the Business Roundtable, the Atlanta Committee for Progress and CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. And more will need to be done.
At times, this will be challenging and uncomfortable, and it will require courage, humility, dedication and reflection.
Our pledge as a company is that we will do our part to listen, learn and act. Coca-Cola is committed to making a difference in our communities and within our company by mobilizing our history of advancing civil rights and by rallying the strength of our employees, families and friends. Our company must play a visible and proactive role in creating the change that is desperately needed. More progress must be made. It is our duty.
[Note: This week, The Coca-Cola Company hosted a Stand As One employee dialogue, led by James Quincey, Chairman and CEO; Troy Taylor, Chairman and CEO, Coca-Cola Beverages Florida; Lisa Chang, Chief People Officer; Lori Billingsley, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer; Jim Dinkins, President, Coca-Cola North America; and Valerie Love, SVP, Human Resources, Coca-Cola North America. Our employees shared their experiences and questions, and many asked James Quincey to share his remarks publicly.]