Belvedere CEO outlines key practices firms can roll out to combat racial injustice

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Belvedere Vodka chief executive Rodney Williams poses with singer Janelle Monae.(Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Belvedere Vodka)

The CEO of LVMH (MC.PA) vodka brand Belvedere has said that his company is interested in rolling out programmes in which people can gain greater “fluency” in matters of racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd.

Speaking about an LVMH employee town hall held in New York, Rodney Williams said that the momentum should be used to create vehicles through which employees could be provided with a better understanding of racism in the US.

“We’re now responsible for everyone's education. We’ll burn ourselves out trying to do that. But at the same time, we have to create vehicles where there is a greater understanding, building on what has happened in this country, of how we got here,” Williams said in an Adweek panel discussion of black business leaders.

“We're trying to create ways in which people can gain more fluency using forums, education, using speakers on the history — so that they can understand how we got to where we are,” he said.

“There is momentum to be harnessed from people who are allies, people who are interested in being counted as voices,” he said, noting that educating people about racism was still a “real challenge” in the industry.

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The Black Lives Matter movement has received unprecedented support from corporate giants in America, with companies such as Nike (NKE), Netflix (NFLX), Citigroup (C), and Apple (AAPL) expressing vocal support for the cause.

Analysts have suggested that such support for the protests signals the rise of “political corporate social responsibility.”

But others have argued that supportive messages are not enough — and that they must be matched by funding, resources, and concrete changes to corporate behaviour.

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Echoing Williams’ call for greater education, the chief marketing officer of global gaming firm Activision Blizzard (ATVI) Esports said that people should not be disparaged for not knowing enough about racism in the US.

“Race is just like any other subject matter if you've never learned. You can be 20 years old and not known what eight times nine is, because you never did multiplication,” said said Daniel Cherry III.

“No one has ever learned how to deal with race in this country, so they’re not equipped with the answers — they don't know the equation.”

There are “fully formed” adults, he noted, that have “no idea” about race, racism, and justice, simply because they were never taught.

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“You know what? Let's not disparage them for learning how to do multiplication. Let’s actually teach them calculus. Let's continue to progress,” he said.

Williams noted that, overseas, the knowledge gap is even greater.

“A lot of people who haven't spent a significant time in the US don't really understand culturally America,” he said. “They are shocked by what has happened.”

“And it is not that Poland or France or anywhere else is that more progression. It’s that their image of the US and what this country is about runs counter to what is being captured on the news.”