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Constellation invests $100m in black-owned firms

US firm Constellation Brands will invest US$100 million in black and minority-owned alcohol businesses over the next 10 years as part of a new programme.

Constellation Brands owns the High West American whiskey brand

The new Focus on Minority Founders programme will see the firm’s venture capital group, Constellation Brands Ventures (CBV), invest in black and minority-owned businesses in the industry by 2030.

The “multi-initiative social justice action plan” is part of Constellation Brands’ commitment to achieve greater parity for the company’s black colleagues.

“The conditions that have allowed systemic racism to persist in the US have existed far too long,” said Bill Newlands, president and chief executive officer at Constellation Brands. “We categorically denounce bigotry, racism and social injustice. They are clearly inconsistent with our company values and our commitment to embracing diversity and creating an inclusive environment where all employees feel safe, respected, and valued.

“We stand in solidarity with the black community and we are committed to achieving meaningful and lasting change.”

Constellation said data from the ‘Rate My Investor, Diversity in US Start-ups’ report showed the “venture capital ecosystem is starkly homogenous”. The study of US venture activity from 2013 to 2017 found just 1% of venture capital-backed entrepreneurs were black.

The pledge followed a similar move by Constellation in 2018, which announced it would invest US$100m in women-led alcohol businesses over a 10-year period as part of its Focus on Female Founders programme.

“These businesses serve as the fabric of their respective communities and we must make it more equitable for them to access the capital needed to have a fighting chance at success,” said Newlands.

“In a little over a year, CBV’s Focus on Female Founders initiative has shifted our ventures portfolio mix from 20% female-owned to 50% female-owned. This reinforces there is a real need for these programmes, and they can drive measurable improvement in minority representation for our industry.”

The Focus on Minority Founders initiative will also support the growth and development of black and minority-owned businesses by providing sales, marketing, operations, and finance expertise through the CBV team and its specialists.

In addition, Constellation Brands has entered into a multi-year partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which will include a donation of US$1m to further EJI’s mission and provide training opportunities for Constellation’s leadership team. EJI works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment and racial inequality.

Address ‘unconscious bias’

Constellation Brands will also create greater equity internally. The firm is reviewing recruitment, hiring, and talent development practices to ensure black talent is supported and unconscious bias is addressed.

The group is also “evaluating brand engagements and advertising policies to ensure media partners, brand sponsorships, and other activations are aligned to brand and company values”.

In July 2018, Constellation Brands appointed Kris Carey to the newly created role of chief diversity officer.

A number of drinks firms have pledged to take steps to boost diversity in recent weeks.

From tomorrow (1 July), Smirnoff owner Diageo will halt all advertising on major social media platforms indefinitely as the group “strives to promote inclusion and diversity”.

Nearest Green Distillery and Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s brand have jointly pledged US$5m as part of a new initiative to boost diversity across the American whiskey industry.

Maker’s Mark owner Beam Suntory also said it would “deepen engagement” with its global diversity and inclusion teams and employee impact groups to “help fuel our inclusive culture and affect positive change”.

If you’re looking to diversity your spirits collection, here are 10 black-owned spirits brands to support.

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