In a letter sent May 30 to all employees entitled, “Racism is another virus to eradicate,” VF Chairman, President and CEO Steve Rendle called George Floyd’s death “tragic” and “stomach-churning” — and likened racism to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The virus behind our global shutdown has a formal name: COVID-19. The virus that caused the death of George Floyd and many other people of color also has a formal name. It’s called racism,” Rendle wrote. “Racism is not welcome at VF Corporation. It never has been and never will be. And while we as a company can’t create a vaccine to eradicate racism from our planet, we can do our part to lead with purpose, inspire others with our actions, break down racial and ethnic barriers and be part of the solution.”
The full memo follows:
To All VF Associates Worldwide –
This week the world witnessed the tragic death of George Floyd, an African American man whose life was needlessly taken by a Minneapolis police officer who pinned him to the ground and held a knee on his neck.
The stomach-churning images and videos of this horrible incident have dominated the news and social media feeds in the U.S. and beyond in recent days. And now these images include the immediate aftermath of this situation: protestors clashing with police, buildings on fire, people hurting – and pundits on television talking about how this can never happen again.
This should never have happened, period, much less again. But, if we’re honest, we know it likely will. We know this story all too well because it’s repeated with frustrating regularity, not only in the U.S. but all over the world. It’s heartbreaking. And it’s unacceptable.
As I’ve thought about this situation, I can’t help but draw comparisons between it and the global pandemic we’re currently facing. Why? Because both have been caused by a virus. The virus behind our global shutdown has a formal name: COVID-19. The virus that caused the death of George Floyd and many other people of color also has a formal name. It’s called racism. Unfortunately, our world only seems interested in finding a cure for one of these diseases.
Let’s be clear, racism isn’t an American issue alone. Yes, it’s inextricably linked to U.S. history, but racism doesn’t adhere to borders. It lives just below the surface in our global society and is triggered by certain events. For example, hatred is now being directed toward the Asian community in response to the coronavirus outbreak and its regional origin. The intersection of these two viruses is extremely ironic.
Racism is not welcome at VF Corporation. It never has been and never will be. And while we as a company can’t create a vaccine to eradicate racism from our planet, we can do our part to lead with purpose, inspire others with our actions, break down racial and ethnic barriers and be part of the solution. Unlike the coronavirus, we aren’t going to stay in our homes or hide from the racism virus. We’re going to continue to fight it, but do so through constructive and collaborative efforts, not destructive and violent protests.
Starting today and over the coming weeks, you will see VF and our brands speak out against racism and engage both our associates and external audiences in positive, productive dialogue. And because many of us are hurting and feeling an extra level of anxiety these days, we will be taking concrete steps to support you during this time. To this end, our Inclusion & Diversity team will create virtual venues for us to gather, discuss and express our emotions, which are understandably high right now. We will activate our Employee Resource Groups in ways that elevate this topic to a higher degree internally, and we will leverage our Executive Inclusion & Diversity Council so we can understand what other actions we should be taking to support our people.
VF and our brands have been championing equity, equality and belonging for a long time, whether that’s through specific support for initiatives and organizations from our individual brands or supporting dozens of minority-led and focused organizations through the VF Foundation and other forms of corporate support. This isn’t new territory for us. But the senseless death of George Floyd seems different. It seems like a turning point in this long battle against the racism virus. And while I’m not confident we will discover a cure in the near term, we need to start with acknowledging that racism is also a pandemic – and one that has been an immensely debilitating factor in our society and abhorrent to our professed values of inclusion and equality.
We at VF will continue to do what’s right and lead by example through not just words, but actions. As always, we remain absolutely committed to ensuring that our company is one where everyone feels welcome, supported and inspired to be exactly who they are.
That is who we are at VF, and each of us plays a critical role in helping our global society build a more enduring remedy for racism and hatred.
Chairman, President & CEO