Big Tech responded to George Floyd’s death on May 25th in Minnesota by committing more than a billion dollars toward racial justice within a single month. That’s a lot of money. And yet, Big Tech’s contributions barely register against the immense, nigh-unimaginable piles of profit these companies make every year.
The contributions are part of a recent tidal wave of philanthropy toward racial equality; more than half of all the money contributed to racial justice in the US since 2008 was given within a couple months of Floyd’s death, according to philanthropy tracker Candid. It’s clear this issue struck a nerve in the corporate world.
But despite a pandemic that has left millions without jobs and forced many huge brands to file for bankruptcy, most big tech companies are doing better than ever. In the first full quarter measuring earnings during the pandemic, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft reported making truckloads of cash. All but Google have hit all-time high stock prices in the month of August. (Google peaked in July.) And the biggest tech companies each made tens of billions of dollars in profits — not revenue — last year, meaning even after subtracting the costs of running their businesses, they still have a lot of money they could potentially put toward causes like racial equity.
The money they’ve pledged, in context, looks an awful lot like pocket change.
Take Apple, which announced a $100 million “Racial Equity and Justice Initiative.” That’s quite a sum, but maybe not when you consider Apple’s scale. Apple is now the most valuable company in the world, taking the crown from Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, on July 31st. On average, the iPhone maker made $6.3 million in profit every single hour last year. Theoretically, the company could have made its entire hundred million dollars back the same day it announced the initiative.
Apple’s $100 million represents just 0.18 percent of the $55.3 billion in profits the company made in 2019. (That’s more than the estimated GDP of Iceland and Yemen combined, according to the International Monetary Fund). If someone with the median US salary of $63,179 donated that same percentage of their annual pay that Apple put into its new initiative, that person would be giving $24.28. That would buy you popcorn and a movie (if you weren’t currently sheltering in place).
We found that huge disparities between racial justice commitments and profits weren’t exclusive to Apple. Amazon is committing more than $18.5 million, but that’s just 0.16 percent of the company’s $11.6 billion in profit last year, and it would translate to just $4.17 of the US median salary. And while Microsoft’s $209.5 million would be the biggest pledge from big tech companies to date, that’s like if a middle-class American worker made a one-time donation of $92.55.
Here’s what that “median salary-equivalent donation” would look like for some of the biggest tech companies on the planet. (Note that we’re calculating that specific figure based on company revenue, not profits, because $63,179 is the median worker’s salary — not their disposable income.)
Most of the corporate donations would equate to less than $100 of the median American’s salary. You might spend more on a couple of video games than most companies did on racial justice.
If you want to see just how vast the disparity can be between profits and racial justice pledges, we charted that out, too. The gulf is consistently enormous:
Frankly, a lot of these contributions seem even tinier when you consider how much these companies tend to spend on other things. AT&T reportedly spent $73 million on a single campaign to advertise its fake 5G network, which is more than three times its commitment to Black lives. At $7 to $11 million per episode, Amazon would have been hard-pressed to produce three episodes of its alternate reality Nazi-fighting show The Man in the High Castle with the money it’s pledged since Floyd’s death. Microsoft spent over $100 million trying to reinvent the Xbox gamepad only to wind up nearly all the way back where it started.
The contributions seem even less consequential when you see that many could theoretically recoup their huge, multimillion-dollar commitments in a matter of hours.
Here’s how long it might take to recuperate those pledges:
To generate the graphs and graphics for this story, we first looked at more than 100 public and private companies across tech, retail, fashion, gaming, and more to see the breadth and depth of donations since Floyd’s death. The “Big Tech” charts above only compare the racial equity pledges and annual profits of the 12 tech or tech-adjacent public companies with more than $5 billion in profit in their last fiscal year. We pulled their dollar figures from publicly available statements, blogs, social media posts, and conversations with the companies. In the cases of AT&T and Sony, we combined commitments from multiple divisions of the company into a single dollar figure, meaning Sony Music and Sony PlayStation’s contributions were counted toward Sony, for example.
Some commitments were direct, like donations, but others were more opaque. Apple, for example, hasn’t spelled out exactly how its $100 million pledge will be distributed. That’s problematic because some of that money could be in the form of loans, equity financing, or simply funneling existing money toward different suppliers, which we didn’t want to compare to new money that’s actually being donated or spent toward the cause.
That’s why we also opted not to count some parts of pledges from companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft and why we left out others entirely, like PayPal’s $500 million “economic opportunity fund.” (Apple wouldn’t clarify when we asked, but its original announcement suggested that at least parts of the $100 million would go toward Black developers, students, teachers, colleges, and the Equal Justice Initiative.)
We also chose not to count contributions given by CEOs individually, such as those from Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey, Dropbox’s Drew Houston, Slack’s Stewart Butterfield, or the $120M that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gave to Black colleges. That way, we could make comparisons between companies as direct as possible. (Slack didn’t give any money itself; Dropbox says it contributed $1.5 million between Houston’s donation, employee donations, and company match; Twitter said it gave around $1.6 million.)
We did look at compensation for CEOs and top executives from annual proxy statements, however, as many of them are awarded an outrageous amount of money for their services, especially in the US — and our research shows many firms are willing to spend more on a single executive in a single year than they’ve committed to fighting racial injustice.
For instance, the $47,517,762 that Disney gave CEO Bob Iger in total compensation last year would pay for its $5 million racial justice contribution more than nine times over. Or take the $66,935,100 that Intel CEO Bob Swan earned: that’s nearly 47 times the company’s $1.4 million commitment. (While Intel’s in a weird spot right now, profits and revenue both went up 20 percent last quarter.)
And even though the most recent racial justice protests started in the US after Floyd’s death, these inflated US executive salaries can make some foreign companies look like they value racial justice more than many at home. For instance, Japan-based Sony paid CEO Kenichiro Yoshida about $4.2 million and gave more than $100 million — nearly 24 times Yoshida’s total compensation — to the cause. Germany-based Adidas paid CEO Kasper Rørsted about $7.4 million and committed $120 million to racial justice.
It’s worth noting that executive compensation isn’t just cash. It also includes things like bonuses for meeting financial goals, stock awards, and perks like security details and private planes. It can also fluctuate hugely from year to year. And like Sony, some of the biggest US companies did give more to racial justice than to their execs. Facebook paid COO Sheryl Sandberg $27,144,147 last year, but that’s less than a quarter of the $115 million it’s contributing. And while Microsoft paid CEO Satya Nadella $42,910,215 in total compensation in its 2019 fiscal year, the company is also allocating more than $209.5 million to racial justice.
Then there were the companies that gave even though they lost huge amounts of money last year. Lyft lost $2 million in 2019 but still dug into its pockets to provide $500,000 in ride credits to civil rights organizations that have been helping provide essential transportation. Ubisoft gave $1.1 million despite losing around $355 million. Pinterest lost $1.4 billion but managed to commit $1.25 million in stock and free advertising as well as a $250,000 fund to rebuild local businesses. And Uber lost $8.5 billion but still pledged $11 million.
Mind you, Uber is still working to right the image of a tech bro culture years after the departure of former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick. (Uber also paid $10 million, a very similar sum, to settle a class action discrimination lawsuit in 2018.) And Grubhub, which lost $18.5 million last year but committed $1 million to racial justice, regularly comes under scrutiny for shady business practices; it could use a win in the press.
But even though some overseas firms and those with losses found money to give, there are also highly profitable companies that haven’t publicly contributed at all. While Intel and AMD’s contributions may seem small, US-based rivals Qualcomm and Nvidia haven’t publicly pledged any dollar figures yet. IBM has issued statements in support of racial equality but hasn’t committed any money yet. Samsung, a Korean company, hasn’t made a public dollar pledge, either. If either IBM or Samsung pledged, we would have included them on our chart at the top of this post because they both made more than $5 billion in profits last year. (IBM earned $9.4 billion, while Samsung earned $18.7 billion.)
It’s possible that some companies without a public dollar figure are just quieter about their contributions. AMD didn’t share any financial pledges in a June 3rd tweet advocating for societal change, but it said it has given $317,736 across donations to the HBCU Foundation and the NAACP when asked by The Verge. And while Snap CEO Evan Spiegel stopped short of providing a specific dollar figure in a May 31st email sent to staff, Snap later told The Verge it has donated more than $725,000 to four organizations since Floyd’s death. IBM and Samsung didn’t respond after repeated requests for comment, however. And while Dell’s number is strikingly small, the company tells us that’s simply because it’s still working on a plan, one that will “create long term sustained impact not address one moment in time,” with a “substantial investment to address racial inequity” that it plans to share in a matter of weeks.
Some companies outside of tech announced contributions as well — and it’s quite possible they inspired tech to up the ante. The three big record labels promised sizable sums earlier than many other companies: Warner Music Group announced a $100 million fund on June 3rd, Universal Music Group created a $25 million “Change Fund” and established a “Task Force for Meaningful Change” on June 4th, and Sony Music announced a $100 million fund on June 5th. And the two apparel giants gave big, too, with Nike committing $40 million over the next four years and Adidas committing $120 million over the same period.
Prominent video game companies donated, too: in addition to Ubisoft’s $1.1 million, Square Enix committed $250,000, 2K Games donated $1 million, Activision Blizzard pledged $2 million, and EA gave approximately $2.3 million. The big console makers weren’t necessarily as generous. While Sony’s PlayStation division pledged $1 million, Nintendo and Microsoft’s Xbox division only released statements in support of racial justice. (Though it’s worth noting that Microsoft as a whole gave $209.5 million by our count.)
The three wireless carriers also made notable pledges. Verizon donated $10 million, and AT&T gave at three different moments in time for a total contribution of $20.5 million. While T-Mobile’s $1.675 million worth of new donations and company match seems far less significant on its face, it’s part of $25 million in grants the company had already committed to six civil rights organizations specifically focused on racial equality last October. While some companies do spend money on racial equity causes every year, T-Mobile’s large and specific pledge was unusual and we felt it worth mentioning.
Overall, the philanthropic commitments reflect a broader trend of significantly increased philanthropic giving toward racial equity since George Floyd’s death. “We can say with confidence that there has been an outpouring of generosity,” said Jacob Harold, an executive vice president at philanthropy tracker Candid.
That being said, we observed that the rush of public giving fell off a cliff after early June. Among the big companies we tracked in our main chart earlier in this post, nine of the 14 made commitments between May 31st and June 7th. After that, they’ve petered out — though there are a few exceptions. Uber announced an additional $10 million commitment to help support Black-owned businesses on July 17th. And AT&T announced a new $10 million pledge on July 30th.
Some tech workers are getting their employers to keep giving by giving money themselves: Amazon said on July 14th that it had matched an additional $8.5 million from employees, or $17 million in total. As of June 19th, Google employees had given $8.5 million as well.
But it’s important to note that some of the most meaningful things companies could do wouldn’t necessarily require publicly opening their wallets. Many companies we tracked have committed to improving diversity and inclusion within their own walls. Dell aims to have 25 percent of its US staff and 15 percent of its US leaders be Black or Hispanic / Latinx by 2030. Google has a goal to “improve leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30 percent by 2025” and has assembled a task force to implement suggestions from across the company to benefit Black users, according to CEO Sundar Pichai. Facebook has committed to adding 30 percent more people of color, including 30 percent more Black employees, to its leadership ranks.
And there are some ways that companies gave that weren’t straight donations but could help further racial justice inside and outside the corporate world. Many are pledging to spend more with Black-owned suppliers or put money into Black-owned banks. Some, like AT&T, are giving money to organizations that help Black people get job training. EA is giving every employee an additional paid day off each year to volunteer in their communities, tying it to racial justice. Dropbox and Zoom will offer an apprenticeship program for incarcerated individuals first piloted at Slack. Apple and Microsoft are expanding their work with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
And even though it’s not a tech company, we thought it was worth mentioning that UnitedHealth Group is creating a fund to help put George Floyd’s kids through college. There were many different ways that companies pledged to give beyond donations — so much so that it made it challenging for us to make an apples-to-apples comparison of all of the company pledges.
No matter how or why the companies are making the pledges, it’s important to recognize the fact that they exist. Explicitly talking about race is helping to elevate Black people right now, says Laura Morgan Roberts, a professor of practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, in an interview with The Verge. “They’ve all been presented as a new set of groundbreaking commitments motivated by the issues raised in the racial protest movement this summer,” says Roberts. “And that framing alone, I think, speaks volumes.”
Now, the companies need to do the hard work of making racial equality a priority. “Huge earmarked donations can make a big splash,” says Roberts. “But in the longer term, when the moment fades, and the funds are spent, those institutions may end up in a similar place to where they were before,” she said, adding that we’ll see how committed these companies truly are to racial justice “when it starts costing people something.”
Roberts also argued that companies need to be thinking about their role in creating the racial inequalities that exist today. “It’s not just about where you’re going, but it’s also about owning up to where you have been, and how you may have contributed to a situation that exists right now, and that the wealth and prosperity of your business could be rooted in, is likely rooted in, some deep-seated inequities,” she says.
The onus is now on these companies, which are among the most influential in the world, to prove they are committed to racial justice for the long haul. The financial pledges they’ve made since George Floyd’s death are a good first step. Now, the companies need to make — and stick to — longer-term institutional changes that support Black employees and Black communities in the months and years to come. Those changes might be the things that address racial injustice more than any one-time dollar amount ever could.
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