This week, shareholders from across the country will convene at Gap’s corporate headquarters in San Francisco for the company’s annual shareholder meeting on May 17. As Gap’s management and shareholders ponder the future of the company, they should keep in mind that shopping has become a political act in the Trump era.
Pepsi, Neiman Marcus, Uber, Under Armor and L.L. Bean are just a few of the companies that have found themselves caught up in the maelstrom of consumer activism sweeping the country. The wave of people deleting the Uber app following the company’s decision to continue servicing JFK airport during a taxi strike protesting President Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban is just one example of this increased consumer activism.
How companies navigate this new environment of heightened consumer interest in corporate political activity and company positions on the critical policy issues of the day—from their stances on the environment, to worker safety records, to their position on health care, to pay equity and more could affect their bottom lines.
Gap, like many companies, appears to have recognized that climate change is one of the critical challenges we face. It has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020 and to increasing its use of renewable energy. Gap also has signed declarations in favor of both the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Paris Agreement. Just last week, Gap took out a full-page ad in the New York Times urging Trump not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
“By funding the Chamber, Gap is helping to fund a partisan agenda, and [its] customers should not be forced to subsidize [it]...”
Gap’s stated commitments in support of action on climate change and equal pay for women not only are good policies, they also are good for business. This is doubly true in an era of consumer activism, given that large majorities of Americans favor action on climate change and equal pay for women. Woe to the company that finds itself on the wrong side of these issues, because it may find itself on the receiving end of a customer backlash.
Unfortunately for Gap, its stated support for action on climate change and in favor of equal pay for women is undermined by its monetary support for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest lobbying group. The Chamber has been a longtime opponent of action on climate change, leading the fight against the CPP as well as supporting offshore drilling and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. What’s more, the Chamber also has a long history of lobbying against equal pay legislation and other important workplace protections for women.
In fact, the Chamber is the impetus behind much of the Trump/GOP agenda. What’s more, the Chamber was the largest dark money spender on congressional elections in 2016, with 100 percent of its money going to benefit Republican candidates. Because the Chamber doesn’t disclose its donors, voters will never know which corporations and other wealthy special interests are funding this orgy of partisan political spending. In comparison, Gap’s political action committee’s limited donations have benefited candidates of both parties in roughly equal measure.
By funding the Chamber, Gap is helping to fund a partisan agenda, and Gap’s ideologically diverse customers should not be forced to subsidize this agenda that some may find abhorrent.
If Gap wants consumers to take its commitments in favor of action on climate change and equal pay for women seriously – and avoid becoming the latest company embroiled in controversy – then it must stop funding the hyperpartisan Chamber and its reactionary agenda, as more than 50 civil society groups from around the world recently asked it to do.
Some prominent Fortune 500 companies such as Apple and CVS already have publicly quit the Chamber due to the Chamber’s reactionary agenda; many others also have left quietly in recent years. It is time for Gap to follow their lead. The Chamber’s anti-climate, anti-women agenda is bad for the planet and bad for business, and its dark money political spending is bad for our democracy. But perhaps most important from Gap’s shareholders and management’s point of view, continued membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is bad for Gap’s reputation and its bottom line.