Monday, September 6, 2010

What Target Can Do to End the Boycott

Boycott.  What Boycott?

Target came under fire when it was made public that Target had donated $150,000 in cash and goods to MN Forward.  This Minnesota group then used this money to support Republican Gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmers.   Mr. Emmers is well documented as being against gay marriage.  There has been outrage leveled at Target for two reasons:
  1.  Target’s appearance of being anti-gay
  2. Target’s appearance of trying to influence an election -- many feel that corporations should stay out of politics.

Should There Be a Boycott?

Where a person shops is a personal decision and I have seen many people swear off shopping at a store for much less than what Target has done.  As a consumer, I respect anyone’s decision to shop where they want for whatever reason they want.  I once swore off eating at McDonald’s….not because the food was bad for me or because I thought the food was unappetizing.  No.  I swore off McDonald’s and kept at it for about 6 months because they kept getting my orders wrong.  Nothing would make me more upset than getting home and finding items missing or the wrong food.   To be fair, my local McDonald’s has been much better lately, but I check my order EVERY TIME.  But that is just me…

Back to Target.  Is Target Anti-gay?  Clearly, the answer is NO.  Target has a long history of supporting the GLBT community through its support of same-sex benefits for employees, offering a discrimination free work environment and supporting local gay pride events, among many other examples.   

Is Target trying to buy an election through corporate donations?  I guess that depends how you define “buy” an election.  Due to the recent “Citizens United” US Supreme Court decision, corporations are allowed to directly contribute to political candidates.  So Target is well within their constitutional rights to donate to Mr. Emmer’s campaign.  Corporations have been supporting political candidates and issues for decades (probably hundreds of years).  I remember being distressed to find that Archer Daniels Midland (ADM – Large agribusiness company) donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the George Bush (the 1st) and Bill Clinton presidential campaigns (See PBS Frontline Program “The Choice: 1992”).   What really bothered me was that ADM wasn’t choosing a side.  They didn’t care who won, so they donated to both campaigns.   This is just one example – corporate political contributions through political action committees are common.  So, to me, it seems like this sudden outrage against companies contributing to campaigns is rather odd.  Where has the outrage been for the past 50 years?

It should be noted that the organization which is doing the most to raise the issue of Target trying to buy elections is  Their main criticism appears to be that Target is not a “person”, so they shouldn’t be allowed to contribute to political campaigns.  Last time I checked wasn’t a person either.   Nor are unions.  This doesn’t seem to stop them from trying to influence elections and contribute to political candidates which reflect their political agenda.  It is my opinion, that has a problem with this Supreme Court decision and this is a move to intimidate Target and to put other corporations on notice that they shouldn’t contribute to political campaigns.

Why Did Target Make the Donation?

Let’s keep in context the mission of MN Forward.  It has 3 very simple objectives (per their website):  Tax reform, spending reform and education reform.  Sound like laudable goals.  I think the key point, from Target’s management perspective, is tax reform.  Minnesota has the 3rd highest corporate tax rate of any state in America.  Obviously, Target is interested in supporting a candidate which will reduce their tax burden and therefore increase their shareholder value.  Companies don’t usually support a candidate because of their social agenda, but because they think it will help their bottom line.  As usual, it is all about the money.

Is Target guilty of not fully understanding all the implications of the candidate they supported?  Probably.  They focused on Mr. Emmer's tax stand and not paid close enough attention to his stand on social issues. 

Some raise the issue that Target knew about Mr. Emmer's anti-gay stand, but felt they could support him due to his anti-tax, pro business stance.  They accuse Target of making a calculated decision of feeling Mr Emmer's social issues were less important than his pro business politics and purposefully disregarded this in their decision.  This is open to debate.  It really is impossible for me know what Target's management knew and when did they know it.  I tend to err on the side that Target made a bad decision for not fully understanding the candidates social agenda vs. disregarding his social agenda. 

What Can Target Do to End the Boycott?

Target CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, has issued a public apology and stated that their decisions to support Mr. Emmers were not based on social issues, but on his pro-business, tax reduction agenda.  This satisfied some boycotters, but most felt that this was inadequate.     

Many boycotters have asked Target to “make it right” and make a matching contribution to a gay friendly charity.  This actually sounds like a reasonable solution.  I bet it has been discussed multiple times in the corridors of management which run Target.   They were actually in discussions with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to do just that.

However, I can almost guarantee that someone on the executive team raised the issue that Target doesn’t want to trade the current boycott for another one.  What do I mean?  Gay marriage is a very divisive issue.  People feel very strongly about this issue on both sides.  If Target were to make a donation to a pro-gay marriage organization, it would be on Fox News 24/7.  And then they can expect that there would be backlash…this time from the right. 

So, it Target in a no-win situation?  How can they make this right?

I think I have the basis for a solution.  Target needs to find a charity that focused on equality and fighting discrimination in all its forms.  Unfortunately, I am not an expert in charitable organizations and their agendas, but I am sure that such organizations must exist.  One example might be the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation.  The ACLU is labeled as a liberal organization by the right, but the ACLU’s mission is to uphold and defend the constitution – which includes fighting racial, gender and sexual orientation based discrimination.  And if I were Target, I would donate $300,000 to this organization.  No, question that it would make a difference.

Would this End the Boycott?

Not for everyone.  Some people will never stop no matter what Target does.  However, it would probably be a viable solution for 60-70% of the people boycotting and that is probably all they could hope for.

If Target were to make a contribution to an organization such as the ACLU Foundation would this end the boycott for you?

Also, it should be noted that Target does give millions of dollars annually to charities including:  local K-12 schools, St. Jude’s Hospital and a variety of local charities.

The Financial Impact of the Boycott

I have no idea how much business Target has lost from this boycott, but rest assured Target does.  I have read post after post on Facebook and Twitter about money spent at retailers other than Target.  Hard to know how much of this is accurate, but retailers do a very good job of tracking stores sales very closely and I am sure Target could tell if the boycott has cost them much more than their $150,000 contribution.

Target, the ball is in your court…..

PS. Here is a link to a fantastic related blog post by Elana Centor from BlogHer.


RELODEN said...

The end of the boycott will come with the resignation or dismissal of the CEO Gregg Steinhafel. He made the decision to donate to MN Forward aka Tom Emmer. November 2nd when Tom Emmer loses Strinhafel should do the right thing and resign.
In football when the coach screws up he gets canned. With a big old golden parachute. Same here.
The Board of Directors should remove Steinhafel after the election. That is where public pressure should be applied.
Then we can all go shopping.

Anonymous said...

When to end the boycott is a very good question. For me, when the companies that donated to MN Forward vow to stay out of politics. I feel alienated by these companies to the point that I will boycott them until they apologize and change their ways. When possible, I spend my money with businesses that are aligned with my self-interest. If a business makes a point of showing me that they are against my self-interest, why would I pay them to work against me? That would be rather stupid on my part, wouldn't it?

There are times when it is OK to have a legitimate difference of opinion, and times when we don't agree with everything that a company or politician stands for. Those times require compromise, and we take the bad with the good.

This is different. Target, Best Buy, Holiday Gas Stations, and Red Wing Shoes all have competitors that we can buy from, and we can choose to support businesses that are working in our favor. I'm surprised at how these companies are acting, whether short-sighted, or calculated and shrewd. It seems arrogant, complete with a shopping cart full of hubris.

My values come first, convenience shopping second.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last two comments. We can not support corporations with our purchases if they are going to use our money to buy elections.

As for Target.... I won't shop at Target until CEO Gregg Steinhafel is gone.

Nick said...

Fantastic blog post! I have a very similar opinion about the situation, but I work at Target so I tend to just defend the company instead of giving my own opinion.

by the way, I don't Greg Steinhafel is the problem. It's not like Target is a dictatorship. He's doing a great job running the company, and I think that his public apology was very well put together. He may represent Target, but he isn't the only one working there.

Anonymous said...

What public apology?

I read the statement that went to Target employees:

"Dear Target Leaders, I have heard from many of you, and our team members, over the past week regarding Target’s contribution to MN Forward, and I appreciate your engagement and candor, both of which clearly demonstrate your loyalty and passion for our company.

In situations like this, it is often difficult to find the right words, but I would like to respond with the same honesty you have shown me.

The intent of our political contribution to MN Forward was to support economic growth and job creation. While I firmly believe that a business climate conducive to growth is critical to our future, I realize our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate, and for that I am genuinely sorry."

That is an excerpt. He doesn't apologize for the donation, just that it affected employees in a way that he didn't anticipate. It's not a public apology either. It went to Target employees only.

Is there another apology that went out to the general public?