- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Tomorrow is the deadline for Toyota Motor Sales USA to comply with the diversity demands of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who threatens a boycott of the Japanese automaker if his conditions are not met.
Toyota also is defending itself in a lawsuit brought by a friend of Mr. Jackson's, Greg Calhoun. The Alabama consultant and grocery mogul claims that Toyota's American office has failed to pay a $1 million service fee for the study of enhancing diversity at Toyota.
"We are quite surprised that the consulting firm chose to do this under these circumstances," said Mike Michels, a Toyota spokesman. "The boycott is still on the table, and we were simply unable to agree with Mr. Calhoun's proposal."
Mr. Jackson in May threatened to call for a boycott after he discovered a Toyota ad that showed a close-up of a black person's smile that featured a gold RAV4, a small sport utility vehicle, embossed on a front tooth. The ad was placed on giveaway postcards found on racks in trendy nightclubs, coffeehouses and restaurants.
"The only thing missing is the watermelon," Mr. Jackson said during a news conference that followed his first meeting with Toyota officials.
Toyota removed the ad on its own on May 14. But a week later, Mr. Jackson accused the company of racist advertising while excluding blacks among its dealers, board of directors and advertising agencies.
Mr. Jackson insisted that Toyota spend more of its $470 million annual advertising budget with black advertising firms and include more blacks on its staff. The company has installed what it calls an "internal diversity panel" and is reviewing advertising firms.
Toyota says it has moved fast enough to satisfy any demands that Mr. Jackson or others have made.
"We had hoped all of this was over after his first call," Mr. Michels said. "We had a meeting with him on June 20 and felt that we had installed some changes. But he's now raised other issues over our board of directors. Well, our board is in Japan, like many of our other management teams."
Mr. Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition have disseminated misinformation on the degree of minority participation in the corporation, Mr. Michels said.
He said Toyota was disappointed, for example, that Mr. Jackson attacked the percentage of the company's minority-owned dealerships. Sixty-three out of the 1,378 Toyota and Lexus dealerships in the United States are owned by minorities, a rate comparable to that of Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Jackson said the discussions with Toyota have been "fruitful" and that a boycott will be discussed at the Rainbow/PUSH convention Aug. 8 to 12. Such an action is a last resort, said Keanna Peyton.
"As of now, we've had open talks and promising results, but there have been some issues from the beginning I think one of the major concerns we have had was female representation among the leadership" at the company's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif.
Since his fledgling days as a civil rights leader, Mr. Jackson has threatened companies with boycotts for perceived shortcomings in minority hiring. More recently, his "Wall Street Project" involved speaking to financial leaders and encouraging more hiring of minorities and working with minority-led firms.
Cypress Semiconductors chief T.J. Rodgers called the strategy a "shakedown" when Mr. Jackson accused his company of racist hiring policies and threatened sanctions.
Eric Dezenhall, a D.C.-based corporate consultant, said Mr. Jackson's modus operandi is more of a "protection racket rather than a shakedown, because he doesn't really make threats."
"Nowadays, a corporation would rather be accused of child molestation than racism," Mr. Dezenhall said. "I think Jackson's efforts have blown out of something very legitimate. When he started, there were these disparities. But now, there are black CEOs, and that's one reason Jackson hasn't been doing so well. They got to the top through hard work and taking risks."
But Mr. Jackson says he is just trying to level the playing field.
"Jackie Robinson just needed a chance, and that's what I am trying to get for people of color," he said during a February interview.
The lawsuit from Calhoun & Associates is rooted in an agreement for consulting services to prevent the boycott. Attorneys for Mr. Calhoun claimed Toyota representatives signed a contract to pay $1 million for services and verbally agreed to a five-year relationship.
Toyota denies it ever signed anything.
"There is a contract signed by Toyota representatives," said Larry Golston, one of Mr. Calhoun's attorneys. "It was $1 million for consulting. Right now, we're trying to figure out how Toyota can say that there is no money owed."
He said that while his client and Mr. Jackson "are acquainted with each other," the deal between Mr. Calhoun and Toyota was forged through the consultant's relationship with NASCAR.
"So Toyota brought him in to develop a diversity program as well as coming up with a plan that could appease Rainbow/PUSH so they wouldn't boycott them."
Mr. Calhoun is an Alabama supermarket tycoon with 14 stores, 600 employees and annual revenues of around $81 million. His grocery empire enabled him to expand, and he opened Calhoun & Associates in Chicago in 1998.
"We consult to major companies about minority issues," Mr. Calhoun explained in an interview that year. His clients have included the Coca-Cola and Pepsi companies, and NASCAR.
Mr. Calhoun was part of a contingent of civil rights activists and corporate leaders who accompanied President Clinton on the 1999 "poverty tour" of the South.

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