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What is Brownwashing & Why Is It So Bad?

Sign in a window saying racism is a pandemic

Remember the Black Square? It was widely used as a show support for Black Live Matters in 2020, following George Floyd's horrific murder. It's safe to say now that, in 2023, the brands using the Black Square have done very little - or nothing - to truly tackle racism.

But have brands thought about the repercussions of using the Black Square without taking it seriously? And committing a form of Black washing and promoting racism?

Today, 71% of consumers prefer to buy from companies that are aligned with their values. What’s more, two out of three millennials have boycotted a company due to its stance on an issue they care about. These days, brand transparency matters. With consumers becoming more ethically and socially conscious, there’s a growing demand for sustainability and equity. Brands react by communicating and marketing their values. However, some claim to uphold certain value — like diversity and inclusion — without any evidence for them.

Brands can consciously or accidentally be horribly superficial about their allegiances, especially around race-related issues. Often, because of the lack of ethnic diversity behind-the-scenes, inappropriate decisions are made, resulting in sub-standard, or offensive, content.

One of the problems which we've seen happen repeatedly is Brownwashing. It's when a company attempts to look “supportive of Black, Brown, Indigenous and people of colour while not implementing anti-racist and/or global majority people empowering circumstances into the own business.”

Example: A brand having stock photos of diverse team members of all genders and backgrounds on their website, only to have a leadership board filled with only white, middle-aged men. Or brands sharing #BlackLivesMatter products, b

ut having racist and hostile work environments for global majority employees (and no listening to and addressing their concerns).

In 2020, Amazon put a Black Lives Matter banner on its home page, yet the company has commercial partnership with the software Rekognition, which disproportionately misidentifies individuals of colour.

Efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion must go beyond making a statement or sharing a one liner on your website.

That's where we can help with employee training, diversity and inclusion audits and anti-racist communications. Contact us to find out more.

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