Business takes on societal challenges

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Outrage over the killing of George Floyd while members of the Minneapolis Police Department were taking him into custody extends to corporate America. The CEOs of Target, Kroger, Albertsons Cos., Hy-Vee, CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance, along with other retail executives and their counterparts in a variety of industries, have condemned the incident, called for justice and racial equality, and reiterated their commitment to diversity.

Following days of nationwide protests, Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon, speaking in his role as chairman of the Business Roundtable, said: “Our employees, customers and communities are looking to us to act now. Having spoken to many CEOs of America’s leading businesses, I know they share my conviction that this is a time to act to address racial inequality. This pain our country is feeling should be turned into real change.”

The association’s board formed a special committee to examine what companies can do to help address long-festering issues brought to the forefront by Floyd’s death, and many businesses are launching their own initiatives. (To cite just one prominent example, Walmart, as part of a broader commitment, earmarked $100 million over a five-year period to fund a new center for racial ­equality.)

This isn’t the first time the business community has taken on societal challenges. In recent years, the urgent need to reverse the process of climate change and other environmental concerns have regularly been factored into the long-term strategic planning of major corporations, and the private sector has emerged as an indispensable partner in the ongoing battle to contain and end the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers, distributors and CPG companies kept essential supplies of food and medicine moving during the lockdown; manufacturers have switched some factories over to the production of ventilators and personal protective equipment; and the pharmaceutical industry is in the midst of an unprecedented drive to develop safe and effective treatments and vaccines to counter the novel coronavirus.

In the absence of effective political leadership, it’s heartening to see business leaders broaden and deepen their involvement in such crucial matters as racial justice and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The practical, results-oriented thinking of the people who know how to run large companies should be an invaluable asset as we try to hammer out solutions to our most pressing problems.



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