Corporate ESG, systemic racism, inequality, ESG, capitalism, slavery, shareholder wealth maximalization, anti-blackness in capitalism, private sector, racial equity audits, diversity washing, greenwashing, reparations, tax code reform, promoting equity, ESG initiatives, marginalized groups


In the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court endorsed the “separate but equal” doctrine, essentially codifying racial segregation. This decision guaranteed that systemic racism would permeate every fabric of society despite the abolition of slavery. Recently, many corporate institutions have pledged to actively support the fight against systemic racism through their environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) initiatives. Corporate stakeholders have actively advocated for these initiatives, particularly in response to recent scholarship revealing the significant involvement of capitalist institutions in historical slavery, and the continued perpetuation of anti-Black racism. Nevertheless, such initiatives, for example, internal diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) programs, are falling short in addressing systemic racism and promoting a genuinely equitable and anti-racist society.

This Note first discusses the historical connections between slavery, capitalism, and anti-Black racism to provide a backdrop for understanding today’s prominent corporate ESG initiatives. This Note then assesses those ESG initiatives and argues that corporate ESG is insufficient to combat anti-Black racism and inequality when time after time, capitalistic institutions have prioritized profits over Black lives. Ultimately, this Note proposes a comprehensive approach that combines government-backed reparations; federal legislation reform; Black Americans’ stock market participation; and shifts in buying and capital power to address anti-Black racism and inequality. When employed collectively, these tools offer a more effective approach to tackling the complexities inherent in anti-Black racism and inequality.



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