WASHINGTON – Big companies are steadily improving their service to black communities, but they're more apt to donate to black charities than to award lucrative contracts, according to NAACP industry report cards.
Even companies that make an effort to work with minority-owned businesses typically spend barely 5 percent of their contracting dollars with them, said Bruce S. Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Gordon urged blacks not to patronize businesses that don't hire them or advertise in their communities.
"If corporations spend their money on us, we'll spend our money with those corporations," he said. "It's real simple."
Gordon's comments Monday were part of his first keynote convention speech as head of the civil rights group. He took over as president last August. More than 4,000 people are attending the group's 97th annual meeting, which runs through Thursday.
But Monday the NAACP focused on how well corporations work with blacks in employment, charitable giving, advertising, contracting and community service. This year, the civil rights group looked at the telecommunications, lodging, finance, retail and auto industries.
Since 1997, when the NAACP began compiling the grades, the scores have improved overall. Most companies did much better on charitable giving and community service than on hiring and contracting. Gordon said the contracting numbers were "totally unacceptable."
A former division president at Verizon, Gordon said directing black consumer dollars will push companies to be more responsive.
"I have a pretty unique perspective — 35 years working for a corporation with a purchasing budget in the billions and billions of dollars, and a chance to observe internally how the procurement process works," he said.
Telecommunications companies scored best with an overall B-minus grade.
For the second straight year, Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp. received the highest grade of any company — a 3.5 out of a possible 4.0. The company pushes its managers to look for vendors and employees who are black, said Valencia I. Adams, a BellSouth vice president.
"They take it to heart and really work hard on it," she said.
Wachovia Corp. and SunTrust Banks were the highest-ranked banks with a 3.17 score.
Wachovia got a perfect score on community relations. The company pays all employees to donate four hours a month to local charities, and employees volunteered for 650,000 hours in 2005, said G. Dewey Norwood Jr., an assistant vice president.
Of the 50 companies contacted by the NAACP, five ignored the survey, including four retailers: Dillard's Inc.; Kohl's Corp.; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; and Target Corp. All were given Fs for not answering. The other company that failed to answer was Excel, a telecommunications company; it also received an F.
Gordon called on blacks to stop shopping at Target, in particular, until they answer the NAACP's questions — though he stopped short of calling the action a boycott.
"They didn't even care to respond to our survey," he said. "Stay out of their stores."
The NAACP focused on Target because they're one of the nation's most prominent national retailers, said John C. White, NAACP spokesman. However, the group does not plan to picket or leaflet Target, but will rely on word of mouth, he said.
A Target spokeswoman said via e-mail that the company opted out of the survey "because Target views diversity as being inclusive of all people from all different backgrounds, not just one group." The NAACP survey asks only about blacks.
She added that minorities make up 40 percent of Target employees and 23 percent of all officials and managers.
During his keynote address, Gordon said black Americans should end their "victim-like thinking" and seize opportunities to help close gaps between the nation's rich and poor.
"We may not have all the power that we want, but we have all the power that we need," Gordon said. "All we have to do is believe it and use it."