UN and WFA make joint call for action against racism

Joint call to action: Loerke and Mlambo-Ngcuka
Joint call to action: Loerke and Mlambo-Ngcuka

Businesses should make public actions they take to achieve and sustain diversity, chair of Unstereotype Alliance says.

The United Nations and World Federation of Advertisers have issued a joint open letter calling for action globally on diversity, inclusion and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The letter includes separate statements from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, and WFA chief executive Stephan Loerke.

Mlambo-Ngcuka chairs the Unstereotype Alliance, which was launched by UN Women, Unilever and several other companies in 2017. In her letter, she refers to her experience of bringing down the apartheid government in her native South Africa, praises UK industry figures who signed last week's open letter to take action on inequality and calls for business to publicly share information on their own efforts to improve diversity and tackle racial discrimination.

The Unstereotype Alliance and WFA said they were jointly committing to measuring change in the diversity of the global marketing industry, and the communications it produces - adding that they would work with the industry to develop tangible accountability mechanisms that support the structural drivers of equality and inclusion.

The letter in full

I write to you as the Chair of the Unstereotype Alliance, as a champion for women’s rights and an end to discrimination of all sorts, and as someone who participated in the overthrow of apartheid in my country of South Africa. The links between these elements have never felt stronger. Recent evidence of systemic racism in the US and beyond have been sharp reminders of its corrosive power and deadly impact, especially when allied to entrenched discrimination. As sector leaders and as individuals we must not look away. Our Alliance is founded on the belief that we can be a force for good and a force for change.  This collective has the possibility to make a real difference.

I welcome the current outpouring of concern and solidarity, including last week’s "Action Not Words" pledge from UK practitioners. I hope that we too can commit to action, together.

We face a moment of opportunity, made even more urgent by the impacts of Covid-19, to successfully rebuild societies that offer justice and safety to everyone. This industry has so much power to influence the beliefs that shape our society. I urge you to act now and not to waste your privileged position in society.

First, I ask you to make public the information on how well you act to achieve and sustain real diversity in your workforce and leadership. This is an industry built on performance metrics.   Hold yourself, and the community, to account. Second, I ask all of you to measure and speak about your success in promoting our shared values in your advertising, including unstereotyped content.  

It is only through holding ourselves accountable that we will see sustainable change. I believe we could be doing more to project the commitment of the marketing and advertising industry to a world that is inclusive. We must see our aspirations embodied in a new wave of advertisements that use your market power to highlight the situation, and that are true to our hopes, individually and collectively.

The Unstereotype Alliance has the power and the vision to drive forward industry-wide diversity and inclusion with every action it takes and every dollar it spends. Let us all commit to transformation and hope. More than anyone else, you have it in you to make this change to address the moment. I depend on you.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women


This is a once in a generation moment to confront racial intolerance and brands can play an important role.

The protests in the US and all around the world at the abhorrent police killing of George Floyd are a stark reminder that racism should never be acceptable in a civilised society.

It feels like we are at a watershed moment exacerbated by the heavy and disproportionate toll that Covid-19 has had on ethnic minorities.

We should welcome this long-overdue opportunity to course correct and create a more equitable and tolerant society. 

We know that brands can be a force for good and that consumers expect them to help create a better world. Many brands have shown their solidarity and have matched their words with action. 

And as marketers, we can make a real difference. Prioritising diverse and inclusive teams, we can ensure that we help normalise the diverse portrayals of people through our communications.

These events have given the work of the WFA’s new Diversity & Inclusion taskforce a new urgency. This group can help brands play an authentic and meaningful role in moving society to a better place.  

At the start of Pride month, we should remember the long journey that society has made in terms of its attitudes to LGBTQ communities. Many brands have been a positive part of that journey.

Confronting intolerance is one of our generation’s great challenges. I encourage brands to stand up and be counted so that as a society we can make true progress.

Stephan Loerke, CEO, World Federation of Advertisers

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