- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

Toyota Motor Sales USA, in response to boycott threats from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, will announce today a multibillion-dollar commitment to enhancing its diversity program.
"The discussions with Mr. Jackson have given us the opportunity to look at things more closely and comprehensively," said Toyota spokesman Mike Michels. "This will be a very broad plan, including dealer development, procurement advertising, all the issues that have been under discussion since May."
Last week, Mr. Jackson said that the Japanese automaker's U.S. arm was being unresponsive to his boycott threats, and that sanctions were imminent.
This week both parties will stand side by side to announce the reconciliation in a 30-minute press conference. The announcement will take place in Chicago at the annual Rainbow/PUSH Coalition convention, which began yesterday. Mr. Jackson noted Toyota's pending announcement during his address to convention delegates yesterday morning.
Mr. Michels called the financial infusion into an already robust diversity program a "rededication" on the company's part to improve its ties with minorities.
Toyota, like virtually every other carmaker in the country, has donated money to Mr. Jackson's civil rights organizations. Sometimes the amount has been $20,000, with the largest being $100,000.
During negotiations with Mr. Jackson, Toyota's donations were halted at the civil rights leader's request. Mr. Jackson has been plagued by allegations that his economic boycott threats against several companies are linked to money being donated to his groups. Documented reports surfaced earlier this year connecting his support for certain corporations with donations to Jackson-piloted groups such as his nonprofit Citizenship Education Fund.
Mr. Michels insisted that Toyota's commitment to expanding its diversity program goes beyond simply an injection of money.
"This plan is much more broad than that," he said.
The conflict between the civil rights leader and the U.S. arm of Japan's largest automaker began with an ad campaign that ran for several weeks this spring. The ad, created by international agency Saatchi & Saatchi, showed a close-up of a black person's smile with a Gold Toyota RAV4 sport utility vehicle carved on a front tooth.
Mr. Jackson said the ad had racist overtones. "The only thing missing is the watermelon," he said to reporters after an hourlong conference with Toyota corporate leaders in May.
Toyota defended the ad, saying it was part of a "buzz" campaign, which relied on using postcards distributed to hip urban nightspots and coffee houses.
"The postcard was not directed at any ethnic group," Toyota stated on its Web site.
Mr. Jackson first organized small picket-line protests against the ad and Toyota's diversity practices in Detroit and Chicago.
Then he threatened a company boycott and sent a memo to Toyota demanding changes in its treatment of minorities.
His demands included the creation of a "3-5 year plan on parity, diversity and inclusion, including timetables and targets." Also, on Mr. Jackson's list were changes that would "empower minority employees."
Toyota, which saw its number of minority employees more than double between 1974 and 1992, maintained that it has always had a diverse workplace.
Today's announcement will end the dispute, Mr. Michels said. In fact, the company never really wanted to defy Mr. Jackson.
"We aren't wired that way," the spokesman said. "It sounds cliche, but there is a continuous improvement mantra here. I really don't think it would be our way of looking at things."

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