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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Renee

Canva | Representation without Compensation in Exploitation

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

How we raised our voice for fair pay for photographers and models working with Canva.

How it began

On March 11, I shared this story on Instagram.

In short, Canva appeared to have hired a photographer to take images to diversify Canva's content library with Black models with locs (to balance the white models with locs that primarily existed at the time). The models were asked to model and sign away usage rights for any purpose and in perpetuity for free.

By March 12, Canva put together a "squad" to address these inequities.

The original caption and call to action

Canva boasts about its commitment to lasting change, saying on its website that, "This systemic, global issue (racism) has impacted Black communities for far too long, and we are committed to support[ing] change."

Want to know how your business can affect change?

Well, it doesn't begin and end with making Juneteenth templates, sending a donation to the catch-all BLM organizations, or adding more Black and Brown faces to your image library.

(P.S. Juneteenth templates were the most downloaded templates in 2020)

While representation is important and appreciated, that alone does not drive us much closer to equity, antiracism, or antioppression.

We must ask ourselves as business leaders, "how has my business and industry perpetuated the oppression and exploitation of Black people (or any group for that matter) historically?"

You won't have to look far to realize that the lack of fair compensation has and STILL IS an issue we face day-to-day.

Yet here we have what seems like another brand hanging its hat on a "commitment to change" as long as it doesn't cost them any change.

Did anyone assign a budget to diversify the Canva library? Does that budget extend to the models being asked to sign away their photo rights in perpetuity?

No? That's exploitation.

Did anyone ask, "should we consider a Black photographer to capture this piece of Black heritage?" Maybe pair Sabrina with another Black photographer?

No? That's out of touch.

Allow me to quote myself from a Buzzfeed article from this month:

This is particularly problematic, as it reads as if we're being used as a prop to appease your temporary guilt or address customer complaints without taking real action," Renee said. "The lack of fair payment (or any payment for that matter) says that you still see us as people to be used up, drained, and exploited.

I expected better from you, Canva. And I'm gravely disappointed.

The resolution

Canva has established a Diverse Creator Fund. The fund "allocates funds that will be used to seek out and directly support a global network of creatives and content creators who capture and produce authentic content representative of the unique cultures in every corner of the globe."

I'd love to interview the team to talk about this fund and the process of getting here. They've ignored my requests multiple times on Twitter, however.


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