Jesse Jackson calls for boycott of BMW, cites lack of diversity – Greenville News

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BMW’s top leader in North America met this week with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to discuss the German automaker’s efforts to promote diversity in its ranks, but the civil rights leader says people should stop buying BMWs until the company reveals more about current efforts to diversify its management.

Eleven percent of BMWs sold in the United States, Jackson said, are purchased by black Americans. Five of 340 BMW dealerships nationwide are black-owned, BMW confirmed.

“They once had 12 dealerships,” Jackson said Wednesday. “They’ve gone backwards.”

Jackson contacted The Greenville News on Wednesday afternoon after an earlier lunch meeting with BMW North America President Bernhard Kuhnt at the company’s corporate offices in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., outside of New York City.

He said the two would meet again at the Spartanburg County plant “within the next few weeks,” though no date has been set. 

“The biggest BMW plant in the world is in Greenville-Spartanburg,” Jackson told The News. “So one issue is employment both vertically and horizontally — employees in the plant but also leadership at the dealerships, suppliers, procurement and contracted services.”

More: How BMW ended up in South Carolina

Asked to respond to Jackson’s criticisms, BMW North America spokesman Kenn Sparks released this statement late Wednesday:

BMW has a decades long commitment to diversity and it’s evident in our employees, our suppliers and our dealerships. As an active member of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD), and many other diversity organizations, BMW is always looking for ways to increase both management and ownership of our dealerships by minorities as well as increasing the number of minorities in all aspects of our company.

Jackson delivered a public statement on Twitter shortly after his meeting with Kuhnt, saying “The conflict is not resolved …. We want to be partners, not just consumers.”

Wednesday’s meeting in New Jersey followed the civil rights leader’s call on Oct. 20 for “anyone who cares about diversity” to boycott BMW. That announcement was prompted by BMW’s decision not to participate in Jackson’s biennial automotive diversity scorecard this year. His organization, Rainbow PUSH, prepared the scorecard ahead of its 2017 Automotive Summit Oct. 19 and 20 in Detroit.

Rainbow PUSH had asked the top 12 global automotive manufacturers to submit answers to a survey; 11 participated: Ford, GM, Fiat-Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Honda, Subaru, Kia, Mercedes and VW.

As a result of BMW’s non-participation, Rainbow PUSH gave the company failing marks across all six of the scoreboard’s categories — employment, advertising, marketing, procurement, dealers and philanthropy. 

BMW North America oversees the marketing and sales of BMW vehicles throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. BMW Manufacturing in Spartanburg County produces the company’s X line of SUVs.

More: Top BMW North America official anticipates growth in SUVs produced at Spartanburg plant

Locally, BMW has hosted a diversity conference at Greenville’s TD Convention Center for top-tier suppliers since 2012, quadrupling spending with women- and minority-owned suppliers and contractors since starting the event, according to the company. 

The company addressed diversity in its 2016 annual report, saying “Diversity represents a key factor in ensuring the BMW Group’s continued competitiveness going forward, focusing on the three aspects of gender, cultural background, and age / experience.”

Racial diversity in its North American operations was not addressed in the report, its focus primarily being the under-representation of women in the German automaker’s ranks both in Germany (“BMWAG”) and around the world (“BMW Group”): 

The percentage of women in the total BMW Group workforce rose to 18.7% (BMWAG: 15.8%), above the internal target range of 15 to 17%. The proportion of women in management positions rose to 15.3% for the BMW Group as a whole and 13.3% for BMWAG.

Davida Mathis, a spokeswoman for Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH organization, said Wednesday that Jackson and BMW’s Kuhnt discussed the company’s EEO-1 Report, an annual U.S. compliance survey that details the company’s employment record for women and minorities. The report is required by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Mathis said BMW declined to provide that report to Rainbow PUSH. She said African Americans are proportionally represented as buyers of BMWs “but underrepresented as dealership owners and suppliers of goods and services to BMW.” BMW confirmed that only five of its 340 dealerships nationwide are black-owned but did not provide figures  to substantiate or dispute other criticisms from the Rainbow PUSH team.

The Greenville News has filed a Freedom of Information Request to review any EEOC complaints filed against the company over the past five years. Individual EEO-1 Reports are not public information. 

Automotive News reported in July on a complaint filed in the Chicago area by a long-time temp worker for the company who claimed she was placed on leave when she asked to be considered for full-time, direct employment by BMW. The woman, who is black, said white men were hired ahead of her though they had less experience. 

Earlier, in September 2015, BMW Manufacturing agreed to pay $1.6 million and provide jobs to alleged victims of racial discrimination after settling a complaint from the EEOC’s Charlotte office. The lawsuit claimed BMW excluded black workers at a disproportionate rate when the company’s new logistics contractor applied BMW’s criminal conviction records guidelines to applicants.

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