June 1, 2020

Unrest across America: The early impact on businesses

We’ll help you take stock of the moment, learn from it, and help others.

Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images

The protests over the death of George Floyd that spilled across US cities this weekend evoked one of the most tumultuous periods in American history, drawing comparisons to 1968 — and the unrest that exploded after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

A deluge of support for Black Lives Matter

In the business world, dozens of brands spoke out, pledging their support for racial equality:

  • Nike turned its famous slogan inside out: “For once, Don’t Do It,” urged the text of the company’s new ad. “Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism.”
  • Twitter updated its bio to read #BlackLivesMatter — a hashtag that appeared in posts by HBO, Nordstrom, and many other companies, according to The New York Times.
  • In a memo to employees obtained by Bloomberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the “painful past” of racism “is still present today.” While our country’s laws have changed, he wrote, “the reality is that their protections are still not universally applied.”

In his memo, Cook said Apple would be donating to several groups, including the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that focuses on racial injustice. 

YouTube said it would donate $1m to the Center for Policing Equity, a think tank that works with departments to reduce racial disparities in law enforcement.

How companies have scaled back

While large companies voiced support for the protesters, the demonstrations also led some big businesses to adjust their operations. 

Amazon scaled back deliveries and closed Whole Foods locations in some major cities. Apple kept many of its stores closed on Sunday. On Sunday evening, Walmart closed hundreds of stores across the country, according to The Wall Street Journal. CVS closed stores across more than 20 states.

The impact on small businesses

Some business owners in cities rocked by the demonstrations were left to pick up the pieces after their stores were looted. The pandemic was already threatening their livelihoods — and owners whose businesses were ransacked said they may not recover

Cynthia Gerdes, the co-founder of a Minneapolis restaurant that shut down because of the coronavirus in March, had planned to start offering takeout next month. But she told the Journal that she’s reconsidering, calling the unrest “a gut punch.”

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