Politically Charged Boycotts Explained, From Uber to Under Armour
Under most circumstances, a business owner would probably tell you that the last thing they want is to alienate his or her customer base. And even in the most temperate political climate, companies will likely think very carefully before they wade into any partisan waters.
On Jan. 27, President Trump issued an executive order that suspended refugee admissions to the United States, and banned citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from traveling to the U.S.
In response, giants such as Facebook and Starbucks shared unequivocal opposition to the ban. Others, such as 21st Century Fox and IBM, shared a commitment to diversity but made no comment on the order itself -- other than that they would be on hand to help any employees affected by it.
Whether the boycotts end up having a significant financial impact remain to be seen, but it does appear that in this political climate, given the current administration’s links to the business world, many businesses are entering the fray whether they intended to or not.
In his initial response to the travel ban, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said that the company would compensate any drivers that were impacted by the ban and, with his role on the President’s economic advisory council, said he would broach the subject with him.
On Jan. 28, during a protest against the executive order at JFK airport, the company suspended surge pricing to and from the airport, a decision that was met with criticism, since a strike in solidarity from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance was happening at the same time, prompting calls to #DeleteUber began trending.
Meanwhile, for the first time ever, Lyft downloads exceeded those of Uber.
On Feb. 2, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from his role as a member of President Trump’s economic advisory council, explaining in an internal memo to his employees, “I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council. Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that. I spent a lot of time thinking about this and mapping it to our values.”
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote an open letter after the executive order was issued detailing how the company will launch an initiative to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years in all of the countries where the company has a presence. And in the United States, the first round of hires would focus on refugees that worked with the U.S. Armed Forces. Following the release of the letter on Jan. 29, #BoycottStarbucks began trending, though many people were using the hashtag to commend Starbucks for speaking out.
Elon Musk also sits on the president’s economic advisory council, and his proximity to the president had led some to call to #BoycottTesla, although based on how expensive those vehicles are, it might be an easier moral stance to take given the state of most people’s bank accounts.
Like Uber's Kalanick, Musk was criticized for his role on the Strategic & Policy forum. But Musk has remained a part of the council, taking to social media to state that while he was advising the president, it did not mean he was condoning the actions of the administration.
Amazon issued a statement against the travel ban, as did founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. The company joined a group of 97 tech companies -- including Apple, Microsoft and Google -- in supporting the lawsuit filed on Jan. 31 by Washington State against the federal government about the order, leading some of the President's supporters to boycott the company.
However, Amazon also carries Trump products on the site, and it is one of retailers being boycotted as part of the Grab Your Wallet campaign that protests companies that sell Trump branded products or companies that are owned by the president and his family. Bezos met with the president at Trump tower in December at a summit with tech leaders.
Grab Your Wallet
On Feb. 7, in an interview with CNBC, Under Armour’s CEO Kevin Plank said of President Donald Trump, “To have such a pro-business President is something that is a real asset for the country. People can really grab that opportunity … He wants to build things. He wants to make bold decisions and be really decisive. I'm a big fan of people that operate in the world of publish and iterate versus think, think, think, think, think. So there's a lot that I respect there.”
Shortly after those comments from Plank surfaced, a #BoycottUnderArmour hashtag began trending on social media.
The Baltimore-based company released a statement the following day clarifying Plank’s statement. Plank, who is a member of Trump’s American Manufacturing Council along with leaders from from companies including Dow Chemical, Dell, Ford, GE and Tesla, took a similar tack to Elon Musk in his defense of his involvement with the President’s Strategic & Policy Forum.
“We believe it is important for Under Armour to be a part of that discussion … We engage in policy, not politics. We believe in advocating for fair trade, an inclusive immigration policy that welcomes the best and the brightest and those seeking opportunity in the great tradition of our country, and tax reform that drives hiring to help create new jobs globally, across America and in Baltimore,” the statement reads. “We have teammates from different religions, races, nationalities, genders and sexual orientations; different ages, life experiences and opinions. This is the core of our company.”
Several of Under Armour’s highest-profile partners, including Steph Curry, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and ballet star Misty Copeland shared their thoughts on Plank’s comments.
On Instagram, Johnson remarked that “[Plank’s] words were divisive and lacking in perspective. Inadvertently creating a situation where the personal political opinions of UA’s partners and its employees were overshadowed by the comments of its CEO. A good company is not solely defined by its CEO.”
He went on to say that a successful company is built on not one person, but a team of people -- and that he would continue to be committed to Under Armour’s team. “Debate is healthy,” Johnson wrote. “But in a time of widespread disagreement, so is loyalty. I feel an obligation to stand with this diverse team, the American and global workers, who are the beating heart and soul of Under Armour and the reason I chose to partner with them.”
Copeland also took to her Instagram to weigh in. She said that while she was grateful for Under Armour’s support, she disagreed with Plank and spoke with him privately about his comments. She explained that she felt Plank’s words ran counter to the values she believed Under Armour held when she decided to partner with the company in the first place.
“As someone who takes my responsibility as a role model very seriously, it is important to me that [Plank], and UA, take public action to clearly communicate and reflect our common values in order for us to effectively continue to work towards our shared goal of trying to motivate ALL people to be their best selves.”
In November, Kellogg decided to pull its advertisements from Breitbart.com, a right-wing news outlet that is criticized for being a platform for racist, sexist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant views. Soon after, the site made the company the subject of an online boycott.The Oakland Press spoke with Kellogg CEO John Bryant in early February, who said that while U.S. cereal sales were flat in the last quarter of 2016, the company couldn’t identify any real impact on its sales as a result of the boycott.
In mid-February, the online platform that allows people with corresponding interests to organize activities sent an email to its users in response to President Trump’s travel ban.
The company wrote that while it has always been open and welcoming to users who hold all manner of political beliefs, “from the Howard Deaniacs to the Tea Party ... the recent executive order aimed to block people on the basis of nationality and religion” and “a line was crossed.”
“At a time when core democratic ideals feel under attack, we feel a duty to spark more civic participation,” the email stated.
To that end, the company set up more than 1,000 #Resist Meetup groups to bring together people who want to take social action to protect democracy and human rights. Meetup noted in its letter that more than 50,000 people had joined the groups.The move has led users who do not agree with the company’s political stance to put out a call to #resistmeetup or #boycottmeetup.