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NAACP: Corporate America improves, can still do better

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CINCINNATI — Corporations should make a greater effort to buy goods and services from black vendors, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said in a report released last week.

Forty-three companies took part in the civil rights organization’s annual report card on corporate America’s financial relationship with the black community, which was released at the group’s national convention in Cincinnati.

The NAACP report card indicated improvement in scores within each industry surveyed, but more progress is needed — especially in the area of supplier diversity, said Dennis Courtland Hayes, NAACP interim president and chief executive officer.

“Corporations spend millions of dollars each year purchasing goods and services,” he said. “We believe that corporations should make a greater effort to include African American vendors when acquiring goods and services.”

The survey measures the automotive, financial services, telecommunications, general merchandising and lodging industries. It tracks employment, marketing and communications, charitable giving, supplier diversity and one industry-specific area for each company and for each industry.

The NAACP said blacks put an estimated $700 billion into the American economy annually.

“Our community wields a substantial block of economic power,” Hayes said. “African Americans want to experience a return on their consumer investment and challenge those who are taking their dollars for granted.”

Hayes said that all the industries were most responsive in the area of charitable giving.

Overall, the general merchandising industry made some of the biggest gains from previous years, earning a grade of C that was helped by improvements in community reinvestment. Wal-Mart scored the highest among general merchandising companies with an overall grade of C-plus. Cincinnati-based Macy’s Inc. was in second-place with a C.

“Wal-Mart was a company that gave us some concern in earlier years, and we are happy that they have been working to show and reflect that they also value consumer dollars and care about diversity,” Hayes said.

Chrysler LLC received the top ranking in the automotive industry, while Bank of America Corp. led the financial services sector and Marriott International Inc. won the highest rating in the lodging industry among large hotel chains. Loews Hotels Holding Corp. ranked highest among the smaller lodging corporations. ATandT Corp. led the rankings for the telecommunications industry.

In the general merchandising area, Hayes said he was happy that Target Corp. has agreed to participate in the 2009 survey.

“For four years in a row, Target didn’t participate and we expressed our concerns,” Hayes said.

The NAACP had sent letters and started an online petition urging Target’s participation in 2006. Hayes said the civil rights group and Target continued discussions, resulting in the discounter’s decision to take part in the survey next year.

There are other companies that have not participated. He pointed specifically to Dillard’s Inc., the Little Rock, Ark.-based department store chain that he says has refused to participate in the survey for five years.

Dillard’s was given a score of F on the report card, and the NAACP plans to start an online petition urging the retailer to demonstrate its commitment to diversity and appreciation for the dollars blacks spend in their stores.

“We will continue to talk with Dillard’s, and at the same time we will be letting our members and allies know of their continued refusal to participate,” Hayes said.

Hayes said the NAACP’s report card is not meant to point fingers or to punish corporations.

“It’s to encourage us all together to work toward what we all see as important — that being equal opportunity for all and making sure that the black community sees the result of their patronage of these organizations,” Hayes said.

(Associated Press)