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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A slew of corporations over the last year made promises to help build a more equitable future, pushed to action by sustained protests demanding racial equity. Consumers and investors alike are looking for action to back up rhetoric.

What’s new: PwC, a professional services firm, provided Axios an early look at a new global strategy announced this morning that aims to reimagine business' role in society. A cornerstone of the plan is putting $300 million toward education and racial equity programs.

Why it matters: As cultural polarization and political gridlock have become American staples, corporations have increasingly taken more visible stands — and what consumers expect from them has grown.

The details: PwC committed $125 million to providing 25,000 Black and Hispanic college students with high-demand digital and career readiness training, up-skilling, mentorship and pathways to help start their careers.

  • The firm plans to ultimately hire 10,000 of those students over the next five years.

For context: PwC’s U.S. business currently employs around 55,000 people.

Meanwhile: PwC is also committing $75 million to support CEO Action, a diversity and inclusion coalition that the firm's U.S. chairman, Tim Ryan, founded in 2017, and its public policy subset, CEO Action for Racial Equity.

The big picture: Business and CEOs have effectively become a fourth branch of government, stepping in to deal with society's problems when government can't — or won't, as Axios chief financial correspondent Felix Salmon wrote earlier this year.

  • Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer noted that trust in businesses has grown over the last year, and that business is a more trusted institution than the government or media.

At PwC, that translates into a decision to re-vamp the way it works with its clients.

  • The firm is consolidating its assurance and tax reporting segments into a new group called Trust Solutions. It aims to create a more holistic approach to helping clients build trust with their own customers — on issues related to the environment, diversity and inclusion, data privacy and more.
  • It is also launching The PwC Trust Leadership Institute, funded with $100 million, which will teach trust-building philosophies to thousands of business leaders preparing for C-suite and director roles.

The bottom line: "People want to know if companies can be trusted to be good business leaders in every sense of the word. Not just to follow the regulations, but can they be trusted to run their platforms the way society expects them to?" Ryan tells Axios.

Go deeper

2 mins ago - World

Top general: China's hypersonic missile test "very close" to a "Sputnik moment"

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Wednesday that China's test of a hypersonic missile is "very concerning" and "very close" to the kind of "Sputnik moment" that triggered the Space Race during the Cold War.

Why it matters: The comments by America's top uniformed general underscore the depths of U.S. concerns about China's rapid military expansion and development of advanced weaponry.

Climate reckoning for oil and gas CEOs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Top executives from ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell will face a reckoning on Capitol Hill Thursday, as they're grilled on evidence that their companies knew for years that their products were driving climate change but chose to downplay or deny it.

Why it matters: The hearing before the House Oversight Committee will be the first time these executives have been brought together to provide sworn testimony regarding what they knew about the ties between their company's products and climate change, and when they knew it.

Updated 3 hours ago - Science

Nor'easter slams East Coast with flooding rain and powerful winds

A residential area in Middlesex County as floodwater from the nor'easter covers streets in New Jersey on Tuesday. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A monster storm was slamming the Northeast with record rainfall and powerful winds over Tuesday night — causing flash flooding that resulted in people having to be rescued in New Jersey and New York roads to close.

Threat level: All of southern New England westward to New York City and northern New Jersey was under the threat of flash flooding and coastal flooding from the nor'easter through Tuesday night into early Wednesday, per the National Weather Service.