Laura Murphy, president of Laura Murphy & Associates, has advocated for civil rights and liberties throughout her entire career. Her latest endeavor comes in the form of a premier report on how corporations can conduct civil rights audits. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

Baltimore native Laura Murphy has devoted most of her career to activism. From working for Maryland Congressman Parren Mitchell to being the first African American and woman to lead the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, she has unceasingly championed civil liberties and civil rights. 

On Wednesday, Murphy released a first-of-its-kind report outlining standard guidelines for corporations to perform civil rights audits. The paper was created in partnership with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and funded by the Ford Foundation. 

In it, Murphy argues the business case for civil rights audits, and she consulted organizations, including Color Of Change, NAACP and the National Urban League, to build the case. 

“Since the murder of George Floyd, business have said that they are willing to confront challenges resulting from systemic racism and other forms of structural discrimination, and leaders that I’ve talked to want more than a one-time charitable contribution or having Black Lives Matter on the corporate masthead for a couple of weeks,” said Murphy. “They want the companies to stop hurting their communities.” 

Murphy pioneered the process of conducting civil rights audits in 2016. At that time, vacation rental company Airbnb requested her services because White hosts were denying Black guests access to rentals. After analyzing the problem, Murphy recommended a series of changes to help the company reach a solution. 

In 2018, Facebook was the next entity to request Murphy’s services. The social media platform had concerns about Black activists being kicked off the site, election interference and hate speech. She completed the civil rights audit in 2020, and as a result of her recommendations , Facebook suspended President Donald Trump from using its platform after the Capitol insurrection. 

Murphy said every audit is different, but they are based on how a corporation is impacting communities of color with its actions. 

After her high-profile audits, companies, business reporters and shareholder advocacy groups were asking her to explain what civil rights audits were and how she conducted them. Rather than continuously repeat herself, Murphy decided to write a report that the public could employ.  

“Civil rights audits are not only powerful tools to hold corporate America accountable to the values of justice, diversity and equality, they are also good for business,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “This report lays down concrete steps for the nation’s most successful businesses to become better businesses, to bend away from tokenism and performative responses and towards bold, meaningful civil rights commitments that customers and the country at large are calling for.”

The report’s key recommendations for civil rights audits include having support and engagement from senior executives, allowing an independent person or firm with expertise in civil rights and racial justice to lead the audit and publicly stating the findings and a plan of action after the completion of the audit. 

Murphy also addresses why businesses must take action to address discrimination by explaining how income inequality harms the economy, how investors are demanding more accountability on civil rights and how the public is concerned about corporations’ role in systemic racism. 

The report resides on the The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ website. 

“I hope that when people have conversations with corporate leaders, they arm themselves with the information in this report so that they can have a more concrete discussion about what they want from their corporate partners,” said Murphy.

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