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Retailers Unite to Mitigate Racially Biased Experiences in Retail Environments

Among the companies taking the pledge to address racially biased treatment in retail are Sephora, Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, Versace and Zara.

Thirty leading U.S. retailers have signed the Mitigate Racial Bias in Retail Charter, initiated by nonprofit organization Open to All and Sephora

The charter seeks to address and reduce racially biased interactions from the shopper experience through the development of resources, education and training for employees in the U.S. retail sector. The goal is to share information openly.

The charter was informed by the Racial Bias in Retail Study, which was commissioned by Sephora and took place from the beginning of the fall of 2019 to the end of 2020. The study found that two in five U.S. retailer shoppers have experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone, and that one in five retail employees have experienced unfair treatment based on their race at their place of work, at the hands of either customers or their coworkers. 

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“The study underscored the pervasiveness of unfair treatment of BIPOC shoppers in retail spaces throughout this country,” said Calla Rongerude, director of Open to All, in a statement. “We believe the retail industry should have a zero-tolerance discrimination policy. With the commitments from these companies, we can begin to address the problem, act and start to make shopping more inclusive.”

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The first 28 U.S. retailers that have signed the charter include: American Eagle Outfitters Inc., the Ascena Retail Group, Ben & Jerry’s, Capri Holdings, CarMax, Crocs, Dick’s, Gap Inc., H&M, J. Crew Group, Levi Strauss & Co., Michaels, Movado Group, Tapestry, Rue 21, Sephora and Zara. By Thursday afternoon, The Body Shop and Cartier had also committed to the charter.

“H&M USA is proud to be a signatory of this very important charter,” said Katja Ahola, U.S. country sales manager of H&M in a statement. “We know as an industry there is still so much work to be done, but this very important step, and the collective work of the signatories will bring us closer to the goal of a more welcoming, safe and inclusive retail experience for all our customers.”

In signing the charter, brands have committed to taking tangible steps toward fostering a more inclusive shopping experience, such as increasing diversity and representation across marketing efforts, providing employee training to address unconscious bias and implementing feedback mechanisms to hear from and better the experiences of BIPOC shoppers.  

DEI consulting firm Mattingly Solutions has developed a two-hour anti-racism training to be shared with all charter members as part of the effort. While only retailers can sign the charter itself, non-retail companies, institutions and nonprofits can support the initiative by taking the Open to All Pledge and supporting the work of participating companies.

In an interview Thursday, Rongerude said, “One thing that is really powerful is that when a BIPOC a shopper is not welcomed into a retail establishment, research has found that they are unlikely to say anything whether [with] a call or post on social media. They will just not shop at that store or with that company again. That shows not just how much training is needed, but also how an accessible feedback mechanism is needed, given the unlikelihood that a shopper of color will that they experienced an unwelcome or discriminatory interaction.”

All in all, she said that the participating companies have a strong desire to create cultures of belonging. In addition, customers and employees expect companies to take discrimination seriously, Rongerude said. Through Open to All, she has been impressed by the level of commitment that companies the group already works with. Even during the pandemic, when layoffs were necessary for some, companies remained actively involved with addressing issues of discrimination, she said.

A meeting is being planned for October so that companies that have committed to the charter can evaluate how the training worked, whether there are any gaps or needs fir additional resources. Having been informed that a lot of retailers conduct unconscious bias training but not race specific training, Rongerude said the plan is to offer the latter. “We want to make sure that we are offering that and then we will develop and refine our materials going forward.”

Open To All aims to have as many retailers as possible sign the charter and not just fashion ones, but pet stores, hardware stores, grocery stores and big-box stores, Rongerude said. “What is really going to create change is to have the entire retail industry adopt a zero-tolerance stance for discrimination and racial bias. And then work together collectively to impact it.” she said.

Rongerude’s said that her hope is that three to five years from now, there will be an array of retailers that will be coming together each month with Open To All to discuss the actions that are being taken and are reporting “fewer and fewer instances of racial bias.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on May 19 at 6:40 pm EST.

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