I want to first pay respect to the life and memory of Mr. George Floyd, as he is laid to rest in Houston, Texas today. His lasting legacy and the circumstances surrounding his death have impacted not only America but countries around the world.
Pain, anger, grief and unmitigated sadness well up in me each time I think about or view the video of Mr. Floyd’s horrific death. Neither the police, community members nor bystanders came to his aid, as his life slipped away. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, a camera memorialized his death. The camera also captured his cries of anguish as his breath was squelched from his lungs, it captured cries for his mother who had passed on before him. The camera also captured his cries for mercy from anyone who would help as he suffered at the hands of those who had prescribed an unwarranted punishment.
His cries were reminiscent of those we have heard in similar circumstances across this country as people of color have suffered similar harm and death. But the national response to this tragedy has been different than the past. Equality marches in the nation’s cities and suburbs and the private and public conversation taking place in the international community are ones that say “No more.”
After each national and international political awakening, we pause for a minute and then commit to do things differently, to be a more positive force for change. We commit to making a meaningful contribution to our community in support of justice and inalienable rights. In the past, that commitment has lasted for many only a short time, until one tires of the work, and the real labor and introspection that it requires.
However, the glare of this spotlight following the death of Mr. Floyd and the subsequent international responses, are different from any other awakening light. It is different because it must be. This must be the time we change. Rampant, violent, discriminatory and lethal systems of oppression must be dismantled on a global scale and it cannot be done without the collective whole.
And as a community and a corporation, we have a duty to be a catalyst for change, if only because we can. We are an iconic brand company with nearly 400,000 team members, spanning across the globe in 25 countries and territories— we pride ourselves on being on the best corners in America and there is power and responsibility that comes with this ubiquity.
We can set ourselves out as an example of a company of diverse and respected team members, well cared for and passionate about our work, showing the world in exemplary fashion how to be a part of the solution – how to support the ethos of Black Lives Matter and begin to help heal the country and the world. With the collective voices of tens of thousands of voices across the globe, we can help propel the movement beyond hope to humanity, respect and equality.
We are not there yet, but we are on our way. We must remember that the work of equality and compassion in a world full of injustice is a constant struggle. Dr. King’s last book’s title encapsulates today’s feeling: “Where do we go from here, community or chaos?” It is the seminal question we must ask ourselves, without embellishment and with all sincerity. We have listened to our community and the communities we serve, and we recognize there must be change for the future in recognition that systems of oppression that threaten the lives and livelihoods of people all over the world must be challenged, condemned and changed. We stand for this in our corporate values of trust care, innovation, dedication and partnership as a retail healthcare company.
The next steps are simple but powerful. We can continue educating ourselves and holding the open dialogue, such as the listening sessions that have begun. We can take specific, articulable actions to drive change. We can work to ensure that those of us in management are all held accountable for recruitment, retention and development of people of color at every level of the organization from the board room to the store room. We can ensure that we promote equality through economic parity in all of our employment practices, not in just ticking a box but in being intentional about our decisions to populate our company with diverse talent as well as suppliers, consistent with availability. This is a contribution to economic empowerment that will be returned ten-fold across all communities as well.
In closing, in furtherance of the initial statement made by Stefano in which we affirm what we stand for, let’s continue to drive the momentum growing across the globe to help drive positive change in honor of one, Mr. George Floyd, for a better, more just world that lives up to our mission to help people around the world lead happier and healthier lives.
EVP and Global Chief Human Resources Officer, WBA