A Philosopher's Blog

Cookies & Politics: Consumer Advocacy

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 27, 2012
Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my previous essay I discussed the company side of corporate advocacy. As noted in the essay, the group One Million Moms called for a boycott of Kraft in response to the rainbow Oreo. However, what motived my decision to write about consumer advocacy was the quandary faced by a friend of mine regarding Chick-Fil-A. On one hand, my friend really likes the food at Chick-Fil-A and has been a loyal customer for years. On the other hand, my friend is a supporter of same sex marriage and was dismayed to learn that Chick-Fil-A donated about $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2009. As might be imagined, my friend was worried that past purchases contributed (however insignificantly) to the company being able to make such donations. This sort of situation, obviously enough, raises some interesting moral concerns. I will start with an easy matter.

On the face of it, a person is free to decide whether or not to buy goods or services from a company based on their advocacy (or lack thereof). So, for example, if someone is pleased by the rainbow Oreo and decides to buy Oreos on that basis, then she has every right to do so. Likewise, if someone is displeased with what the rainbow Oreo stand for and decides to switch to another cookie, then he has every right to do so. After all, this is a matter of personal choice and can be seen as being on par with buying or not buying based on any factor—be it the actor shilling for the company or a taste preference.

It might be objected that buying or not buying based on advocacy would be unfair—after all, a person should buy based on the quality of the product or service and other such relevant factors rather than by the (alleged) irrelevant factor of company advocacy. The easy and obvious reply is that by entering into advocacy, the company has decided to make its advocacy a legitimate factor in purchasing decisions. If the company does not wish to be judged or impacted by its advocacy choices, then the only course of action (other than secrecy, which would seem to be morally dubious) is to not engage in that advocacy.

A more interesting moral problem is the issue of whether or not a person should buy from a company that engages in advocacy that s/he morally disagrees with. For example, a person who finds same-sex marriage morally unacceptable faces the question of whether to buy Kraft products in the light of the rain bow Oreo. As another example, a person who supports gay rights faces the issue of whether or not to patronize Chick-Fil-A.

This problem is similar to the matter of taxes addressed by Thoreau in his essay on civil disobedience. In this essay, he argued that people should not pay taxes to a state whose actions they found morally reprehensible. In Thoreau’s case, his concern was with the wickedness of slavery and what he regarded as an unjust war with Mexico on the part of the United States. As he saw it, a person has an obligation to at least not be a party to what s/he regards as evil. After all, a person who contributes to the doing of misdeeds bears some of the blame of those misdeeds. At the very least, the person’s involvement shows that they accept or at least tolerate those misdeeds.

In the case of the state, the consequences of not paying taxes tend to be fairly serious, at least for the typical citizen. It is also rather difficult for the average citizen to get beyond the reach of the state. As such, citizens should probably be given considerable slack when it comes to paying their taxes to states that do wicked things. After all, all states do wicked things and living out in the open ocean or on an ice sheet are not viable options for most folks.

Fortunately, the situation is considerably easier when it comes to companies that engage in advocacy. After all, there are generally many companies that offer similar goods and services. As such, it is relatively easy for a person to avoid contributing to cause that s/he finds morally unacceptable. For example, a cookie lover who is opposed to same-sex marriage can turn away from Oreos in favor of cookie that is no friend of gay rights. As another example, a person who favors gay rights can consume chicken from a company that does not contribute to anti-gay groups.

It might be countered that people should not have to make such choices. After all, it could be argued, by buying from those companies the consumer is expressing a preference for the product or service and not an approval of a specific moral or political agenda that the company might endorse.

The obvious reply to this counter is that while a person can patronize the company without supporting its advocacy, the customer is contributing in some minor way to that advocacy. For example, the money Kraft made from selling products paid for the creation of the rainbow Oreo. As another example, $2 million of the money Chick-Fil-A made from selling food was given to anti-gay groups.

It could be objected that very little of the money a company receives ever ends up in advocacy and each customer only spends a fairly small amount. If one were to calculate what, for example, the average Kraft or Chick-Fil-A customer spends per year and then take into account what percentage a company spends on advocacy, it would turn out that each customer would make a miniscule contribution. As such, to say that the customer contributes to the advocacy would seem absurd.

The reply to this is that even a miniscule contribution is still a contribution and the individual is thus responsible to that miniscule degree for advocacy conducted by that company (unless, of course, the advocacy money is somehow generated entirely from other revenue sources). As such, if someone opposed to same sex marriage bought Kraft food, s/he made some microscopic contribution to the rainbow Oreo. Likewise, if a person who is for gay rights ate at Chick-Fil-A, then s/he helped fund anti-gay organizations. Naturally, a person’s responsibility can be mitigated by legitimate ignorance. For example, I know people who had not heard about the rainbow Oreo or Chick-Fil-A’s donations until I mentioned these things.

Because being a customer of a company that engages in advocacy helps fund that advocacy, it would seem to follow that a person who regards the advocacy position taken by a company as immoral should not patronize that company. Otherwise s/he would be contributing to something s/he regards as wrong and that would certainly seem wrong.

That said, there is obviously the question of whether the person is right in his/her moral assessment. For example, if homosexuals are morally entitled to equal rights, then Chick-Fil-A would be acting wrongly in supporting groups that seem intent on denying gay rights. Kraft would, in contrast, be acting rightly in showing its support. In this scenario, boycotting Chick-Fil-A would seem right, but boycotting Kraft because of its support of gay rights would be wrong.

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31 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on July 27, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    The goalposts have moved. Obama was against gay marriage in 2008 and nobody called him “anti-gay.”

    Keep in mind that Islam mandates the death penalty for homosexuality. I don’t see how you can get anymore anti-gay than that.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 27, 2012 at 3:16 pm

      He changed his public stance when it became politically feasible. Or, for those a bit more cynical, expedient.

  2. magus71 said, on July 28, 2012 at 6:17 am

    Mike,

    In the post you linked to, the following groups are called “anti-gay”. Does that adequatley describe what the main focus of these groups is?

    •Marriage & Family Legacy Fund: $994,199
    •Fellowship Of Christian Athletes: $480,000
    •National Christian Foundation: $240,000
    •Focus On The Family: $12,500
    •Eagle Forum: $5,000
    •Exodus International: $1,000
    •Family Research Council: $1,00

    It is not government’s role to decide that a business should be boycotted for gving money to these organizations. Private citizens can boycott who they wish. The government far overstepping its bounds is the primary reason Obama will lose the election, even over the economy. Rahm Emanual is a classic example of a modern liberal. His tyoe of thinking have brought severe discredit on the Democratic party.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 28, 2012 at 10:59 am

      I don’t claim that being anti-gay is their main focus. I would suspect that many groups that have some anti-gay positions would have many other interests/missions as well. To infer that a group is entirely about being anti-gay because it has an anti-gay viewpoint in some areas would be comparable to saying that Planned Parenthood is entirely about abortion because some very small percentage of their spending is on abortion.

      I don’t argue that the government should decide whether or not to boycott business-I agree that this is a choice that citizens should make. The state’s role should be limited to preventing businesses from violating the laws, such as anti-discrimination laws.

      The role of government officials is a bit tricky in these matters. On the one hand, as you note, they should probably not impose their views on a business that happens to have a owner who has a view they dislike. On the other hand, suppose that a business owner was advocating racism or sexism and contributing to groups that were against Jews, blacks, women and so on. This would seem to be a business supporting discrimination which could provide a legitimate avenue for criticism from officials. This could, of course, be countered by an appeal to free speech-if a business wants to support the KKK, anti-gay groups, radical anti-male feminists, religious extremists, anti-Christians or whatever, then as long as they are not involved in criminal activities, then that would be something that must be tolerated.

      • magus71 said, on July 28, 2012 at 11:30 am

        I’m just saying that the main reason chick-fi-a is being criticised is because of their donations to these organizations which clearly have a broader scope than being critical of gays. They do not exist soley for that purpose, like the KKK who’s Raison d’etre was the abolition of black rights.

        Does Chick-fil-a refuse to serv gay people food? Do they have to use different bathrooms? I’m not following how chick-fil-a has hurt gays in any way.

        • magus71 said, on July 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

          who’s=*whose

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm

          There is, perhaps, a distinction between backing groups who are anti-X as one of their focuses rather than being solely devoted to being anti-X. For example, the Catholic church takes stances I disagree with, but also takes stances I find morally laudable. As such, I would not condemn a business that donated to the church.

          However, if a business explicitly donates for a specific purpose, then that can change matters. The head of the company made it clear that he was against same sex marriage. As such, this does make the anti-gay matter relevant.

          You do raise a good point-the company does not appear to violate any anti-discrimination laws. As such, the state really has no business acting against the company. After all, the legitimate role of the state is to enforce laws and not punish people because a politician doesn’t like the views expressed by the head of a company. So, I do agree that the state should not ban the business. However, officials are free to decide, as usual, who gets their backing for all the backroom deals that go on in such matters.

          • magus71 said, on July 28, 2012 at 5:16 pm

            Good example, the Catholic church. What if chick-fil-a donated to the church? They’re “anti-gay” too.

  3. magus71 said, on July 28, 2012 at 6:56 am

    The state of the mdern democratc party.

    • WTP said, on July 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      Good thing she had that sign, otherwise I wouldn’t recognize her.

      Apropos of nothing, have you seen this?

      http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaaf-dr-saturday/lsu-latest-anti-alabama-t-shirt-features-unfortunate-164257783–ncaaf.html

      It amuses me how such things are called “unfortunate”, but such is the degradation of our “education” system.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm

        Words are tough on the kids today. My friends in the English departments always have a look of deep pain in their eyes during the semester.

      • magus71 said, on July 28, 2012 at 5:23 pm

        I’ll give the students the benefit of the doubt and assume that the business that printed the shirts made the mistake. But otherwise, I know fully well that grammar and vocabulary are horendous in young America. It’s hurting people who enter the military, too. On the ASVAB entry test, the General Technical score is used to decide what jobs a person is elligible for. It’s a combination of vocabulary and math skills. I work with a lot of people who had very few job options because they didn’t know, for example, the diference between “to” and “too”.

  4. magus71 said, on August 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Seems the attempt by Rahm Emanuel to de-legitimize Chick-fil-a has backfired in a massive way. People who feel the same as the company’s CEO are now flocking to the restaurant. There is a significant conservative population in America who feel they have been marginalized by pop culture and leftist elites. They are looking for common issues to rally around and one has been delivered. Especially since Chick-fil-a broke no laws. Emanuel’s proclamation that Chick-fil-a has no place in Chicago overstepped the bounds of the commonly accepted role of American government.

    The left gives the illusion of prominence in America, not because of quantity but because of volume. Not because of quality but because of fifth columns in all the right places: Academia, media and entertainment.

    • magus71 said, on August 2, 2012 at 8:51 am

      As I was saying “world record” sales.

      Rahm Emanuel is Jewish and should be familiar with the following verse from the Old Testament. It applies to his actions and the outcome:

      “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done…” ~Genesis 50:20

      http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/chick-fil-set-world-record_649217.html

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      You make Americans who are not opposing same sex marriage sound like enemy forces.

      The folks at Chick-Fil-A do have the right to express their views on same-sex marriage, just as people who are opposed to race mixing or allowing women to vote have a right to speak their mind. As you note, as long as the business does not break the anti-discrimination laws, the state has no right to keep those chicken sandwiches out of Boston and Chicago. That is how freedom of expression works-the state has no right to punish people merely for holding views that an official dislikes.

      The officials should have simply said that they disagree with the views expressed but that they are obliged to act within the law.

      • WTP said, on August 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm

        Rather plucky statement there, “The officials should have simply said that they disagree with the views expressed but that they are obliged to act within the law.” Why would the officials have any need to warn Chick-Fil-A that Chick-Fil-A is obliged to act within the law? Chick-Fil-A did not come anywhere near a legal violation. The irony of your statement is that it was these very OFFICIALS who viloated the law by threatening Chick-Fil-A. Perhaps a warning to them would be in order. Perhaps from a certain so-called scholar of the Constitution. I mean, one might go to so far as to say these local officials acted stupidly.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 3, 2012 at 9:32 am

          Sorry, let me clear up my grammar. The officials should have simply said that they disagreed with the guy. But they are obligated to act within the limits of the law. The business is not violating any laws and hence the officials are actually pushing up against first amendment rights. I disagree with the head of the company, but merely expressing a prejudice is not grounds for talking about booting the business via official actions.

      • Douglas Moore said, on August 2, 2012 at 3:40 pm

        No, Mike. I’m making the people who are trying to hurt a business based on a CEO’s personal views sound like enemy forces. Did not Emanuel make Chick-fil-a sound like an enemy force?

  5. magus71 said, on August 3, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Who’s portraying whom as an enemy force?

    • magus71 said, on August 3, 2012 at 8:53 am

      Sometimes, Mike, I don’t think you realize what the character of many of the people whom you defend actually is.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 3, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Describing people as a fifth column would seem to count as describing them as an enemy force.

  6. Douglas Moore said, on August 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm

  7. magus71 said, on August 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    • WTP said, on August 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      Funny to me only perhaps, but plaid-shirt-tired-of-your-hypocrisy guy reminds me of a proselytizing jerk I knew back in parochial school. He was a great one for pointing out hypocrisy too. Well, maybe without the turkey-warbling-head-shaking thing. That’s all this guy.


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