Why Black Suppliers Matter

In South Africa, our apartheid history, our liberation struggles and, eventually, our political freedom has always been centred around restoring the overall human rights and freedoms of Black citizens of our country.  And as we continue to fight against poverty and unemployment that remains the scourge of Black South Africans, the current period of protest against racial injustice around the world and the crippling impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our economy has laid bare the increasing level of inequality that remains despite more than two and a half decades of transformation policy aimed at addressing this very issue.  For the majority of Black South Africans - we are politically free but remain economically insignificant.

Black Lives Matter – the power of purpose

A counterfeit $20 bill and 7 minutes, 46 seconds was more than enough to end the life of George Floyd and set in motion a national resurgence and a world-wide response to what has now become the largest civic movement in US history – the Black Lives Matter movement.  What began as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager killed in Florida in July 2013, Black Lives Matter now describes itself as a “chapter-based national organization working for the validity of black life”. It has developed to include the issues of black women and LGBT communities, undocumented black people and black people with disabilities.  Building on the legacy of the civil rights and LGBT movements, Black Lives Matter has created a new mechanism for confronting racial inequality and espouses, amongst others, the principles of:

  • acknowledging, respecting, and celebrating differences and commonalities.
  • working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.
  • intentionally building and nurturing a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.
  • unapologetically Black in its positioning.
  • Being guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.
  • building a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centred.
  • practicing empathy, and
  • embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in engagements with one another.

Emanating from these key principles and directed at addressing economic inequality, has been a call to support black business, both as customers and by creating the environment that allow black businesses to compete equally.  This call has not only been confined to the US, but has been made all around the world, including South Africa.

The South African economic reality

Over the years we have seen both the public and private sector spend a lot of time, money and human resources on transformation interventions aligned to the goals and objectives of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE).  That said, why do black businesses continue to be under-represented as suppliers in corporate supply chains?  Have we misdiagnosed the problem and implemented an inadequate cure for it?  B-BBEE cannot be the absolute cure for solving all of South Africa’s inequalities, yet is has become the main point of reference for driving transformation.  Points on a scorecard is not going to stop the increasing unemployment, poverty and inequality that we face as a country, while structural, institutional and cultural barriers to economic entry remain intact.

Before truly solving this problem, we need to put more effort, resources and thinking into better understanding and defining the true economic exclusion problem.  We must expand our thinking to what true inclusion means.  We need a greater arsenal of action to break down all of the barriers that prevents us from reaching our true economic potential.  Enshrined in the preamble of our constitution is the statement: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”.  We should constantly remind ourselves that we adopted our constitution so as to “…improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.

This includes paying closer attention to how black businesses are treated.  Why does being a Black business automatically become a proxy for perceptions of poor quality, sub-standard performance, being incapable and seen as unreliable?  There appears to be a presumption that increased risk is bound to this racial stereotype perpetuated by a reasonable belief in the procurement domain that doing business with Black suppliers increases business risk and is therefore not justifiable to pursue.  This places an unfair burden on all Black businesses because the failure of one due to bad decision-making reinforces this opinion and this misperception starts to take on a truth-like quality.

Exclusion is a story about all of us.  It is a lesson about complicity for accepting it.  It is not for government to create more policy but the need for collective action and the collective challenge of the status quo by all South Africans.  We cannot continue to hope for the big things that will make the change.  We have to start with the little things that we can do everyday that together, over time, will deliver the big things that we wait for.

Black Suppliers Matter – Reinforcing our Purpose

Here at the SASDC, as we seek to deliver on our mandate of promoting business and commerce through transformation, we find ourselves doing more and more introspection on why does the exclusion of Black businesses from the mainstream economy continue to happen. This continues to be the case despite the efforts of organisations such as ours, our ecosystem of corporates and strategic partners driving this agenda, as well as a very robust policy environment for driving economic transformation under the auspices of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE).

As an advocate for the inclusion of Black South Africans into the mainstream economy, focussed specifically on how procurement can be enabled and unlocked as an intentional lever of opportunity and market access for Black businesses, here at the SASDC:

1. We stand in solidarity with the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.

2. We reaffirm our commitment to:

    1. unapologetically focussing our resources on supporting Black businesses;
    2. fostering a culture of collaboration and cooperation in the promotion of sustainable Black supplier inclusion in private and public sector supply chains;
    3. working vigorously in support of growing the capacity and capability of Black suppliers;
    4. challenging the status quo and mobilizing stakeholders to eradicate the structural, institutional and cultural barriers that limit Black supplier access to opportunities, markets and overall economic inclusion; and
    5. breaking the comfort of silence by giving Black suppliers the podium to have a voice and to be seen as economically significant.

3.We acknowledge that investing in Black businesses makes economic sense because it:

  • creates stronger communities,
  • contributes towards a more robust and competitive economy,
  • builds local economies, and
  • empowers them to employ more people, eventually leading to the alleviation of poverty in our black communities.

Our Call for Action

We call on our all of Corporate Members, Strategic Partners and broader group of Stakeholders to acknowledge that Black Suppliers Matter by taking supplier diversity seriously, publicly pledging their commitment to supporting Black businesses and backing this up with measureable targets.

We see and hear you, Black Business Owners, because for us #BlackSuppliersMatter