A view from outside the Boeing factory in Everett on April 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A view from outside the Boeing factory in Everett on April 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Boeing, Costco commit millions to social justice programs

Combined the companies are set to invest over $35 million to iniatives in a pair of big-dollar moves.

By Paul Roberts / The Seattle Times

In another sign of the growing impact of this summer’s protests over racial injustice, two of the state’s biggest companies are putting tens of millions of dollars into social justice initiatives.

Costco will put $25 million into a fund to support Black-led financial institutions and community development initiatives, the Issaquah-based retailer announced Friday.

Boeing announced $10.6 million in investments in nearly two dozen nonprofits and other programs focused on “racial equity and social justice.” Among them is Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, which will receive $2.5 million to expand health care access for children in Central and South Seattle.

The big-dollar moves follow a June announcement by Amazon of a $10 million donation for similar initiatives.

All come as escalating national protests over police violence toward Black Americans are pushing even normally low-profile corporations to take public, substantive stands on difficult questions around race and equity.

“Major corporations and organizations are being pressured … to engage on issues where, historically, the wise thing to do was to just put your nose down and do your work,” said Lawrence Parnell, an expert in strategic public relations at George Washington University.

And, critically, where many early corporate responses to the protests were heavy on symbolism and social media messaging, these moves suggest the emergence of a deeper, more economically meaningful response.

George Ashton, who heads strategic investments at the New York-based Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which will get Costco’s $25 million investment, said heightened attention to racial justice issues has dramatically boosted so-called “impact” investments in disadvantaged communities.

In 2020, “impact” investors are considering roughly four times the level of funding for LISC as they were in 2019, Ashton said. The current level of interest “has been unlike any other I’ve seen for impact capital,” he said.

The corporation expects its new Black Economic Development Fund, to which Netflix has already committed $25 million, will reach $100 million. The funds will be used to capitalize Black-owned banks and finance businesses, affordable housing, and other initiatives in communities of color.

Boeing has given $120 million to support education in minority communities in the past five years, according to a company spokesperson. But the new $10.6 million investment reflects a new emphasis on “digging deeply into confronting racism, and racial equity,” CEO David Calhoun said in a message to employees.

Other initiatives include working to boost the number of Black Boeing employees in the United States by 20% “to have our workforce more fully reflect the local markets where we work,” he said.

The philanthropy comes as the corporate world tries to navigate an issue that has been difficult for many global brands.

Seattle-based Starbucks, for example, has committed $1 million to promote racial equity in communities, in addition to internal initiatives such making Juneteenth an official company holiday. But the coffee company has also been criticized for its handling of racial issues, not least after a store employee in Philadelphia called the police on two Black customers in 2018. And in June, the company came under fire for temporarily banning employees from wearing Black Lives Matter symbols at work. Starbucks stores have been routinely vandalized during some recent protests.

But the pressure to put more corporate money into disadvantaged communities isn’t just coming from protesters and other outsiders, experts said.

Many corporations are also being pushed by their own employees to respond substantively to the protests. Millennials in particular “want to hold companies that they work for accountable,” said Ashton at LISC.

Another factor, added Parnell, is the sense that local and federal governments are no longer as effective in dealing with the underlying economic inequalities that are a legacy of long-standing racism.

“People are saying, ‘You’re a major employer in this community, you need to do something, because the community has a problem, and government is not getting it done.’ “

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