15 Percent Pledge as the way forward for business

The 15 Percent Pledge is the brainchild of Aurora James, founder of sustainable accessories brand Brother Vellies.

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The idea originated back in June, during a phone call between Aurora and a friend, where the two were discussing the nation-wide BLM protests sparked by the senseless murder of George Floyd. During the conversation, it became apparent to Aurora that despite there being widespread awareness of, and subsequent activism around, the systemic racism against black communities, little was being done to support them economically – a necessary step towards true equality.

It was this realization that sparked the fire for what has become a global retail-based movement. Within one week, the 15 Percent Pledge had moved from an idea to a registered charity, and its petition had received thousands of signatures in support. As of today, the petition has 102,860 signatures, and now has nationwide retailers – including West Elm, Vogue, Sephora and Indigo (the first Canadian retailer in its arsenal) – signed on, all of whom have legally agreed to dedicate 15 percent of their shelf space to black-owned businesses. At the moment, a legal agreement is the only way Aurora feels she can count on these big brands to follow through. 

She is aware that brands have to put their bottom lines first, as only a brand in business can economically empower others, but she felt some form of reassurance was necessary to ensure allegiance to the Pledge. With that said, Aurora and the 15 Percent Pledge do not get signatures on the dotted line and then sit back waiting for the brands to step up and execute on their promises. Instead, Aurora works with the brands on a quarterly basis and helps them set benchmarks that are feasible, always keeping the ultimate goal of 15 percent shelf space for black-owned businesses in mind. 

We support each brand who commits to the Pledge with resources, including creating sustainable strategies with attainable goals and benchmarks. We also have regular check-ins to ensure each brand/retailer is hitting those goals. If they are facing challenges, we have a team that steps in to help. These are long-term agreements to make sure that we are working towards progress. – Aurora James

The 15 Percent Pledge could not be more timely. Not only does it add to the BLM movement in that it helps to secure economic empowerment for black communities, but it also supports those same communities who have been hit hardest, medically and economically, by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to CNN, “Black Americans represent 13.4 percent of the American population… but counties with higher black populations account for more than half of all Covid-19 cases and almost 60 percent of deaths”. 

The need was always there – financial inequality is something we have been fighting for years. The pandemic just put a bigger spotlight on the problem. – Aurora James 

As Aurora puts it, “fifteen percent is the least you can do”, especially since, as she points out, Americans have widely engaged with, and consumed, black culture without giving anything back. It’s time to change that and with the 15 Percent Pledge, it’s possible. 

There has long been a gap in financial equality for Black people. Studies have found that Black-owned businesses can’t get the credit they need to expand, as they consistently experience higher denial rates and pay higher interest rates when they do get loans. Over 40 percent of Black-owned businesses are not going to make it through this pandemic. In order to create financial equality, we need to support Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs, and the 15 Percent Pledge is one way we can do that. – Aurora James

The movement is showing no signs of slowing down as more retailers – and hopefully more Canadian retailers – are expected to sign on and show their economic support for black-owned businesses. 

As a native Canadian, I knew after launching the 15 Percent Pledge in the United States, we would also need to focus our efforts for increased representation and financial equality for BIPOC-owned businesses in Canada. We could not be happier that Indigo has stepped up and become Canada’s first major retailer to pledge its commitment. We commend Indigo for their early leadership and look forward to working with them on their accountability and commitment as we join together in the mission to support the BIPOC community. – Aurora James