6 Companies That Stand Up for Gay Rights (Now If They Only Had Good Labor Practices Too)
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Part of the reason for this, surely, is that improving labor conditions would hurt the bottom line of the Apples and the Nikes of the world; they rely on cheap labor to make hefty profits. But also, it may be true that we haven't reached the tipping point at which consumers' support for labor rights becomes as mainstream as their support for gay rights. Ellen Degeneres fans spoke with their dollars, promising to shop at JC Penney more after the company brushed off One Million Moms. Whither the hordes of angry Apple users threatening to shun the next iPhone upgrade?
Here are several of the companies that came out in support of gay rights, but have yet to address their own dubious labor practices.
In late January, Starbucks announced its support for marriage equality in its home state of Washington. The company issued a statement noting that it was "proud to join other leading Northwest employers in support of Washington state legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples" and that "[t]his important legislation is aligned with Starbucks' business practices and upholds our belief in the equal treatment of partners." Although some right-wing groups launched a boycott of the company over its marriage equality stance, Starbucks didn't care because it recognized that the gay rights detractors were in the minority of its customers.
Unfortunately, it seems that fair labor standards are not "aligned with Starbucks' business practices" in the same way, since the company has been known to be anti-union and illegally suppresses organizing efforts.
Nike signed a letter co-written with several other Washington-based companies in support of the state's marriage equality bill. Addressed to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, the letter stated simply, "We write you today to show the support of our respective companies for SB 6239 and HB 2516 recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples."
Nike saw no financial risk in stating its support for marriage equality. On the labor front, the story is different. Nike is the poster-company for sweatshop abuse, and according to reports from as recent as 2010 the company's reliance on sweatshop labor continues today.
Microsoft joined Nike in signing the pro-marriage equality letter to Governor Gregoire. What's interesting about Microsoft, though, is that the company has in the past come under fire for not vocalizing its support on the issue. Obviously, those criticisms were loud enough that Microsoft changed its mind, saying in a statement, "Microsoft's greatest asset is a talented workforce as diverse as our customers. As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington's employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, equitable and inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families. This legislation would put Washington employers on equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples. Passing the bill would be good for our business and for the state's economy."
Microsoft stood up for the rights of its workers in Washington state. Unfortunately, the company's commitment does not extend to the workers who make its products overseas. The company has been accused of breaking Chinese labor laws and allowing workers in the country to be treated "like prisoners."
4. American Apparel
Hipster clothing chain American Apparel likes to position itself as a progressive company, and has long supported gay rights, among other forward-thinking issues. A page on the company's Web site reads, "With many of our employees and customers identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, we are a company that is vocal about our support for the protection of gay rights."