Monday, May 18, 2009

On boycotting Wal-Mart after CEO signs a petition

Recently, one of my friends posted a link suggesting that people boycott Wal-Mart after its CEO signed a petition which would ban unmarried couples from adopting. The proposal would disproportionately affect gay couples and is therefore considered to be anti-gay legislation. Many other facebook users posted their support for the ban but I, and one other, voiced some hesitation to jump on the Wal-Mart-bashing bandwagon.

I absolutely disagree with the legislation in question. I think any loving individuals, or couples, that want to adopt and can demonstrate the means, should be allowed to, be they gay, straight, married or unmarried. However, I am decidedly uncomfortable with a company being boycotted on the basis of the CEO exercising his rights as a citizen to participate privately in politics.

What people have argued is that a CEO is the public face of a company and that, therefore, his actions reflect on the company as a whole. I understand and agree with this, within limits. I think that any statements or actions made in a public sphere, that a CEO can reasonably expect to be recorded and reported upon, may be used as a reflection on that company. A petition is a matter of public record, but is not necessarily a public act. Mike Duke did not advertise his signing of this petition, did not issue statements on the subject. He merely signed a petition which reflected his views as a voter. Someone recognized his name on the petition, checked the address to make sure that it was the same Mike Duke, and publicized the fact, and the media ran with it. Furthermore, I don't see how a CEO's views on adoption law are at all relevant to a company like Wal-Mart, a retail store. One person argued that it indicated how Wal-Mart as a company would treat gays. But I think this is an unfair leap. Good businessman will often ignore their own prejudices in the interest of good business.

My concern is that by using the private political behavior of a CEO against his business, we would seem to be extorting him out of his right to be politically active. Duke is not a politician and this legislation has nothing to do with his business. If you want to boycott Wal-Mart because they import too much from China, because you think their employee benefits stink or because they refuse to carry certain cds and dvds on the basis of their content, I have no problem with that. If Mike Duke gets drunk, runs over a number of school children with his Lexus and Wal-Mart fails to immediately remove him from his position and condemn his behavior, then boycott them by all means. But boycotting the company because Duke quietly signed a petition which represents a not particularly radical political view unrelated to anything Wal-Mart has anything to do with... that I can not understand.

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