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Equality
QuickTake

What Are Civil Rights Audits, and Why Are Companies Doing Them?

The "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" protest against racism and police brutality at the Lincoln Memorial in Aug. 2020.

The "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" protest against racism and police brutality at the Lincoln Memorial in Aug. 2020.

Photographer: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

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Calls for U.S. companies to perform what are known as civil rights audits grew in the wake of the protests that erupted across the U.S. in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. They’ve been promoted by advocates as a way to help corporations understand and address their role in creating or sustaining racial disparities. They’ve also been dismissed by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Jamie Dimon for adding “bureaucracy and BS,” although his company later agreed to conduct a narrow analysis. Shareholders of Apple Inc. and Johnson & Johnson approved resolutions calling for audits at their annual meetings this spring, while Chevron Corp., AT&T Corp. and others also face shareholder votes on whether to follow suit.

Also known as racial equity audits, they are independent examinations of whether the company causes or perpetuates discrimination. Advocacy groups and investors who support such audits argue they are a way to help address ongoing systemic racism. For example, banks have been criticized for contributing to economic disparities by charging Black customers higher fees for checking accounts and issuing them fewer mortgages as a result of policies that disfavor minority communities. That’s different than, say, discriminatory actions driven by racism on the part of individual bank employees.