By Lisa Keen
Put down that Coca Cola. Flush the Haagen-Dazs down the sink with the Perrier. And pick up a box of Scott tissue. This may hurt a little. The Human Rights Campaign has just published its first ever “Buying for Equality,” a consumer’s guide to companies that support – or don’t support – equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Using scores from its annual evaluation of what corporations do to ensure “fair treatment” for their GLBT employees, HRC has identified the brand products those corporations sell on the open market. In doing so, says HRC President Joe Solmonese, in the guide’s introduction, gay consumers can “support products from companies that support equality.”
Corporations are ranked on a scale of zero to 100, with 100 being a “perfect” score and indicating that the company has a good policy on all of seven criteria by which HRC judges them.
Among the perfect scorers are such well known companies as Sears, Best Buy, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Estee Lauder, Johnson & Johnson, Whirlpool, the New York Times, AT&T, American Airlines, the Ford Corporation, and The Gap.
Among the worst scorers are such well-known companies as Kmart, H.J. Heinz, Nestle Purina, Bayer, Maytag, Rubbermaid, Nissan, and Exxon Mobil.
“The next time you fill up, speed past Exxon Mobil,” states the guide, noting that the corporation scored only a 14 on the seven criteria, “and pull into Shell, BP or Chevron, which are strong supporters of fairness in the workplace.” BP and Chevron scored 100 each and Shell Oil scored 86. Exxon Mobil scored the lowest of any of the corporations mentioned in the guide, a spot it shared with only two other corporations – the Meijer grocery store chain in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky, and Shaw Industries, which sells flooring.
Shaw Industries should not be confused with Shaw’s grocery stores, which are part of the Albertson’s Corporation, which scored a 71 in the guide.
Speaking of grocers, it will surprise some consumers to see how low the Whole Foods Market, the “world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods,” scored.
“Whole Foods may be great for organic groceries,” states the guide, “but they aren’t so great for equality.”
That low score of 57 was also levied against Kroger, Costco, and Wal-Mart stores.
Not surprising, was Cracker Barrel Restaurants weighing in with a 29 score. But there are probably not many gay consumers who would know that California Pizza Kitchen (an affiliate of Kraft Foods with a score of 100) outranks Starbucks (with an 86) and McDonald’s (79) when it comes to gay equality in the workplace.
The guide does have its limits. It includes only those products from corporations from which it has been able to obtain adequate information upon which to base a score, and it researches only companies with 500 or more employees on the Fortune 500 and Forbes 200 indexes. It also ranks corporations – and therefore their products – based solely on corporate workplace policies. The seven criteria include:
* whether the company has a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation,
* whether the policy also prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression,
* whether the company provides parity in health benefits to employees’ domestic partners,
* whether the company recognizes an in-house GLBT employee group,
* whether the company’s diversity training includes sexual orientation,
* whether the company has a corporate giving policy that provides donations to GLBT charitable groups, and
* whether the company gives to groups that oppose equal rights for gays.
The scoring does not consider whether a corporate political action committee contributes money to gay friendly or gay hostile candidates. For instance, the American Express company scored a perfect 100 on corporate workplace criteria, but its corporate political action committee contributed to the re-election of U.S. Senate Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who introduced the bill to amend the U.S. constitution to ban legal recognition by the federal government or individual states of same-sex marriages, civil unions, or any other same-sex relationships. But before gay consumers whip out their scissors to chop up their green, blue, gold, platinum or clear credit cards, they should also know that the American Express PAC contributed to the re-election of Congress’s most visible and highly regarded openly gay member – U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass).
On the other hand, Bayer – the maker of Bayer aspirin, Aleve, Alka-Seltzer, Midol, and One-A-Day vitamins – not only scored very low in HRC’s guide (29), but its corporate political action committee has not contributed to openly gay candidates and, instead, has contributed to such notoriously anti-gay legislators as U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.).
Gay organizations have attempted to keep track of corporate relations with the gay community since 1976, when the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force launched the first national survey of American corporations on gay-related issues. At that time, the group sent out surveys to 850 businesses but got back responses from only 238. The results, published in 1981, showed that only 41 percent said they did not discriminate based on sexual orientation. But some of the corporations that had the worst track records on gay equality then, such as the Levi Strauss Company, did complete turnarounds. Levi Strauss is now considered one of the most gay friendly companies and scored a perfect 100 on HRC’s corporate scorecard for 2005.
However imperfect, the HRC Buying Guide does give GLBT consumers the ability to direct their cash to products from companies with at least some record of respect for gay equality. The 28-page guide can be seen online at http://www.hrc.org/BuyersGuide. The 28-page booklet is small enough to print out on 16 sheets of paper and is very user friendly, with color-coding, simple scoring notations, and brand names listed under each corporate heading, and minimal commentary.
And the guide is being released at a particularly helpful time of year – when most consumers spend the largest chunk of their budgets for the year on holiday shopping and travel.