It’s time for brands to get off the sidelines and join communities in a sustained fight against racism, the Executive Director for UN Women has said in a powerful call to action.

“The role of the brands and the media is to sustain these (anti-racism) campaigns,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a leading anti-Apartheid campaigner, Executive Director of UN Women, and Chair of the Unstereotype Alliance.

Speaking at Lions Live, she expressed her frustration that “these issues are highlighted over time, and before the issue has been adequately addressed, the energy begins to disappear.

“My call to brands is that this issue is not going to go away until we crack it,” she said. “It’s important to stay with it, to highlight it, and be an ambassador of these issues because being on the sidelines is almost as bad as participating in perpetuating stereotypes.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka likened brands staying out of the fight against racism to staying out of the fight against misogyny, quoting Nelson Mandela: ‘For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women.’

“I don’t want brands to be in that position of conspiring against Black people, or any other group that is being discriminated against,” she asserted. “They need to be part of the action, and they’ve got a platform.”

The advertising industry is in an especially influential position to make change, she believes. “This is an industry that knows how to influence people’s thinking and choices. This is the industry that specialises in getting the results. That skill is actually needed right now.

“No one else is (more) qualified when it comes to behaviour change on a large scale, sometimes in a relatively short space of time, than the media and advertising industry. You have to repurpose your skills to serve a greater good than profits.”

Change, she believes, should be starting internally at brands – and it needs to be tangible, actionable and measurable.

“We also need to have our own goals, because we’re not perfect on the changes that we want to make in our own organisations,” she added.

“The industry must also have goals, standards, and metrics so that we can also track the things that we want to do. They must be courageous, to publish and to talk about these goals that they have so that we’re able to monitor change.”

Lions Live is a free digital event taking place all this week. You can read the agenda and access the live feed here.

Sourced from WARC