Former Diversity Director: Actions Speak Louder Than PR

Feb 07, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Richard L. Cozart, who was once the director of Kmart’s supplier diversity initiative, said his former employer said all the right things publicly but, in practice, discriminated
against suppliers run by African-Americans.

Mr. Cozart has filed a suit again Kmart alleging the retailer derailed his efforts to bring greater diversity to the roster of suppliers selling goods and services to the company
and that he was unfairly fired from his job for, in effect, doing it too well.

A number of African-American owned companies who were once suppliers to Kmart joined Mr. Cozart as plaintiffs in the suit. The companies, reports The Detroit News, “allege
Kmart required certification that it didn’t enforce with other vendors and created unfair obstacles, promising them business only to renege at the last minute.”

Kmart has asked a judge to dismiss the suit against the company.

In a prepared statement Kmart said it “has a long-standing and demonstrable commitment to minority suppliers and minority communities. Nearly 20 years ago, Kmart instituted a
supplier diversity program and continues to purchase from a wide range of minority-owned vendors.”

Mr. Cozart says Kmart did initially support the work he was doing but that, when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002, it abandoned its commitment.

“Clearly, senior management were giving me the green light in terms of telling the world that we embraced diversity, but that was not happening inside,” said Mr. Cozart. “It
was a front. Every time I tried to push a minority supplier, I’d always hit a brick wall. They did business with a couple of black vendors, but then all of a sudden they would
drop them. They were tokens.”

Moderator’s Comment: What are your thoughts on retail company supplier diversity initiatives? How big is the gap between the rhetoric and the reality
in this area? What will it take to close it?

According to Mr. Cozart, African-American owned companies represent 1.8 percent of Kmart suppliers and 3.8 percent of what the company pays out to vendors.
He estimates that African-American consumers spend $3.84 billion in Kmart stores annually.

George Anderson – Moderator

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