Apple commits $100 million to racial equity initiative, boosting black partners

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Shortly after detailing its schedule for the 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple today announced a massive $100 million commitment to a new racial equity and justice initiative, which will be led by environmental and social VP Lisa Jackson. Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed the commitment in a tweet and accompanying video, and Jackson confirmed her leadership role in a separate tweet.

In addition to supporting black developers with a new developer entrepreneurial camp, Apple is committing to boost spending with black-owned partner companies, begin working with the Equal Justice Initiative, and improve representation within its supply chain. The company also expects to expand upon its prior efforts with historically black colleges, community colleges, and underserved educational institutions, as well as improving its own hiring of minorities, particularly members of the black community.

Apple joins several major tech companies in making financial commitments to racial equity in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, which have rocked the United States and several foreign countries in recent weeks. Google and parent company Alphabet committed $14.5 million to an inequity initiative, and Facebook made a $10 million commitment to racial justice. Prior to this, Apple signaled its support for the Black Lives Matter movement by quickly acknowledging Washington, D.C.’s new Black Lives Matter Plaza on its maps and using Siri to direct information seekers to the movement’s website. Paralleling a $100 million commitment made by Comcast earlier this week, Apple’s pledge dwarfs its direct competitors in size, and under Cook — an avowedly strong supporter of equal rights — could have much deeper impacts on the company’s culture, as well as the practices of its partners.

That having been said, Apple’s actual track record on social initiatives has been mixed. While spotlighting the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. every year on his birthday, the company has struggled to make major gains in workforce representation, and too often dodged questions regarding its commitments to international human rights, particularly in China. A rare flare-up in its approach to racial relations came in 2017, when the company’s then-VP of diversity and inclusion infamously suggested that “12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men” could be a diverse group, prompting a rapid apology and soon thereafter her departure from the company.

The new initiative “will challenge the systemic barriers to opportunity and dignity that exist for communities of color and particularly for the black community,” Apple promises, focusing particularly on “issues of education, economic equality and criminal justice reform.” Cook says the initiative will begin in the United States and spread outwards over time. Although today’s announcement doesn’t specify hard dates, spending amounts for each initiative, or targets for hiring, Jackson is expected to bring some of the quantifiable measurements and results she’s developed for environmental initiatives to the racial justice and equity program.

Update at 12:09 p.m. Pacific: Making an announcement separate from Google’s aforementioned $14.5 million inequity initiative, YouTube today committed $100 million over multiple years to “amplifying and developing the voices of Black creators and artists and their stories.” In a troubling sign of YouTube’s current challenges, the company says it removed over 100,000 videos and 100 million comments containing “hate and harassment” in the last quarter alone, and will undertake an internal policy and product reexamination to “close any gaps,” protecting black users and artists from “hateful, white supremacist, and bullying content.”

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