September 12, 2018
Support for tougher gun laws hit a 25-year high last March in the United States, in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A Gallup poll fielded that month found that 67% of Americans supported tougher restrictions on guns.
At that time, several businesses, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, responded to the death of 17 students—and the nationwide fear of gun violence—by limiting their sales of semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15, as well as the bullets that go with them.
But those companies with no ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA) or gun sales hesitated to take a stand, for fear of alienating their customers. Except, that is, for Levi Strauss & Co., which in November 2016 requested in an open letters from its CEO that gun owners not bring firearms into its stores, offices, or facilities—even in states where it is permitted by law.
In a September 4 commentary piece published by Fortune magazine, Levi Strauss President and CEO Chip Bergh recalls the backlash after that letter became public—and challenges other like-minded businesses to do the same.
“In the days after I published that letter,” Bergh says, “I received threats to our stores, our business, and even on my life. It was unsettling. But these personal attacks pale in comparison to the threats that activists and survivors from Parkland, Sandy Hook, and daily incidents of gun violence face every time they speak up on this issue.”
However, he says to other business leaders in the opinion piece, “We simply cannot stand by silently when it comes to the issues that threaten the very fabric of the communities where we live and work. While taking a stand can be unpopular with some, doing nothing is no longer an option….Americans shouldn’t have to live in fear of gun violence. It’s an issue that affects all of us—all generations and walks of life.”
As of September 4, Bergh said, “on top of our previous actions, Levi Strauss & Co. is lending its support for gun violence prevention in three new areas.”
- First, says Bergh, the company has established the Safer Tomorrow Fund, which will direct more than $1 million in philanthropic grants from Levi Strauss & Co. over the next four years to fuel the work of nonprofits and youth activists who are working to end gun violence in America.
- Second, Levi Strauss will partner with Everytown for Gun Safety and executives including Michael Bloomberg to form Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety—“a coalition of business leaders who believe, as we do, that business has a critical role to play in and a moral obligation to do something about the gun violence epidemic in this country.”
- Third, he says, “We know that some of our employees have been personally affected by this issue and want to see change.” Therefore, the company is doubling its usual employee donation match to organized aligned with its Safer Tomorrow Fund. In addition, Levi Strauss is encouraging its staff who are concerned to get involved. The company provides employees with five hours a month (60 hours a year) in paid volunteer time—and recently expanded this to include political activism.
“As a company,” Bergh says, “we have never been afraid to take an unpopular stand to support a greater good. We integrated our factories in the American South years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. We offered benefits to same-sex partners in the 1990s, long before most companies did. We pulled our financial support for the Boy Scouts of America when it banned gay troop leaders.
“While each one of these stands may have been controversial at the time, history proved the company right in the long run. And I’m convinced that while some will disagree with our stand to end gun violence, history will prove this position right too.”
The NRA commented immediately after the opinion piece ran, saying” In a repulsive insult to the nation’s 100 million gun owners, Bergh likened Levi’s campaign to restrict the rights of law-abiding Americans to previous company efforts aimed at combating pre-Civil Rights Era racial bigotry. Among gun owners, Levi’s has used its name and resources to attack gun rights.
“Given the majority of Levi’s 165-year history, Bergh’s decision to use a formerly quintessential American company to attack a quintessential American right is a particularly sad episode in the current surge in corporate virtue-signaling. We can only assume that Levi’s accountants have determined that resulting skinny jeans sales will be enough to offset the permanent damage to their once-cherished brand.”
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