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OPINION – Research by Apparel Insider suggests many of the brands which have been virtue signalling over the issue of race are poorly under-represented in terms of black or African-American representation on their company boards.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder, brands globally have taken to social media, falling over themselves to speak out on issues of race – and the apparel industry has led the way.

Many commentators have accused such brands of exploiting the situation and using it as a PR exercise. However, others claim that by not speaking out, brands are complicit on such issues. To this end, brands are stuck between a rock and a hard place, however, the one area where they can make a difference is internally – by providing better pathways for black people to the company board table.

Yet as our table here shows, many of the US brands speaking out on issues of race this past week have just 1 or 0 black or black African-American members on their company boards. This is despite the fact that experts and academics on such issues agree that societal change will only come through change at the top and a broader shifting of the status quo.

Many commentators have also argued that brands should not be using such issues for their own PR purposes until they have got their own houses in order on the diversity front.

Manny Chirico, chairman and CEO on the board at PVH Corp, said in a statement this week: “We join with those who call out the name of George Floyd in sorrow and anger against the systemic racism that pervades our land. We stand in solidarity with African Americans and people of color, including those among our colleagues and their families.”

PVH is one of many brands which is not leading by example on such issues. Of the 12 board members at PVH, not one are of black or African-American descent.

Likewise, Chip Bergh, president & CEO Levi Strauss & Co stated that, “it’s about a shameful and destructive lack of progress on race and equality in a country that celebrates progress in so many other areas.” Levi’s has 16 board members, just one of whom is of black or African-American descent.

Perhaps most surprising of all is the case of Patagonia. The US outdoor brand this week stated through its media channels: “We stand in solidarity with African Americans and people of color, including those among our colleagues and their families. And we call on business to work with government and civil society to address racism.”

Patagonia’s executive team contains nine members, none of whom are African or African-American descent.

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