In an effort to reduce unfair treatment of customers based on their race, 17 major companies have signed on to “the Mitigate Racial Bias in Retail Charter,” devised this year by the organization Open to All and beauty retailer Sephora.
The 17 companies, with a total of 28 individual brands collectively, includes American Eagle Outfitters, Ascena Retail Group (Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Loft, Lou & Grey), Capri Holdings (Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, Versace), Crocs, Dick’s, Gap Inc., H&M, J. Crew, Levi Strauss & Co., Michaels, Movado Group, Tapestry (Coach, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzman), rue 21, Sephora and Zara, among others.
The charter is a commitment to take “concrete steps to ensure a more welcoming environment for all by reducing racially biased experiences and unfair treatment for shoppers,” and follows Sephora’s Racial Bias in Retail Study conducted last year.
The concept of "shopkeeper's privilege," which is codified in many state laws, has long granted retailers leeway in detaining customers they "reasonably" suspect of stealing.
The pervasiveness of racism in wider society means that leeway often translates to unfair treatment of shoppers who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, as discussed in Sephora's study. The researchers found that 40% of store customers in the U.S. have experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone, and that BIPOC shoppers are three times more likely than white ones to feel judged by their appearance.
That report was conducted following reports of such issues at Sephora itself, including a tweet from R&B singer SZA, who said in 2019 that a Sephora employee racially profiled her and called security while she was shopping.
Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing . We had a long talk. U have a blessed day Sandy— SZA (@sza) May 1, 2019
“At Sephora, diversity, equity, and inclusion have long been core to our mission since our U.S. debut more than 20 years ago – but we recognized that the retail experience has not always been welcoming,” Sephora Americas CEO Jean-André Rougeot said in a statement Wednesday.
To change that, retailers that sign the charter "acknowledge that racially biased and unfair treatment exists broadly in our society and as such, can impact the retail experience," according to the press release. All have pledged to devise actions to "mitigate racial bias from the shopper experience, help foster inclusive shopping experiences for all, and work together to share best practices across the retail industry to drive change."
Potential actions include increasing diversity in marketing, branding, merchandising and hiring; providing employee training; and creating a feedback mechanism in order to improve service and track progress. An unnamed member of Open to All's partner group has funded anti-racism training developed by workplace inclusion consulting firm Mattingly Solutions that will be shared with companies signing the charter.
Open to All Director Calla Rongerude called on more retailers to sign on.
“The study underscored the pervasiveness of unfair treatment of BIPOC shoppers in retail spaces throughout this country,” she said in a statement. "We believe the retail industry should have a zero-tolerance discrimination policy. With the commitments from these companies, we can begin to address the problem, act, and start to make shopping more inclusive. "