On Chic-fil-A and Starbucks: 5 Questions for Re-evaluating our Relationships with Business and Social Views

Chic-fil-A is making waves. Not for any hateful comment, but for admitting that it supports traditional marriage.

Starbucks, on the other hand, has come out boldly in support of gay marriage. And admittedly, Starbucks has received a reaction too, though not as vehemently or as public.

Now, I do have something to say about gay marriage—hardly shocking for a blog inspired by the Catholic faith, but first let’s address our relationship with businesses and social issues.

1)      Why gay marriage?

Why is this question enticing so many companies to take a stand one way or the other? Why haven’t companies come out opposing human trafficking and dedicating money to stop that? Or why isn’t abortion the focal point? And I really mean this question. If we’re looking at the gay marriage question as indicative of a culture war and how the business views things broadly, why isn’t the issue abortion? It’s arguably just as controversial, divisive and cultural. I really am curious to the answer to this. (Also, no one seems to give Chic-Fil-A a hard time for being closed on Sundays, though few people observe the Sabbath themselves).

2)      Is it the proper role of businesses to take positions on social issues?

Maybe. Maybe not. It does make sense for entrepreneurs to keep tabs on issues affecting their product. For instance, Starbucks sells coffee. It makes good business sense for them to trade ethically with coffee growers and promote this issue. Or Chic-fil-A, it makes sense for them to be concerned about the treatment of animals, particularly those that are in their product—chickens.

But should corporate social issue advocacy extend beyond this? I don’t think so. I understand that business owners are individuals who have the right to support or oppose causes. They can do that as private citizens just like the rest of us. To me, it seems unnecessary to politicize purchasing by aligning brands with social causes unrelated to their product or service.

3)      Is there a moral obligation to boycott companies we disagree with?

This stems naturally from #2. Businesses don’t help their causes by making buying into a social statement. What if I just want a frappacino? That shouldn’t say anything beyond my taste in coffee beans and cream. And if I want a chicken sandwich, the only thing I want to say with my Chic-fil-A purchase is that they make really good fried chicken.

Now, buying coffee and chicken (among other things) has become an indication of my personal views. So does that mean that I should boycott the one I disagree with?

Does it mean I have to boycott the companies I disagree with? Hopefully not. Here’s why: In general, these boycotts haven’t been super effective, and I don’t think they are morally obligatory. In our world, corporations and money are so mixed and mashed up, that it would be virtually impossible to avoid supporting companies that donate to or support objectionable causes: Abortion, animal-testing, sweat-shop labor, etc. I haven’t heard many calls to boycott Apple because their products are built overseas by workers paid miniscule wages. And what companies are there that don’t test cosmetics or cleaning products on animals? (Ok, Burt’s Bees, but beyond that?)

The point is, given the overwhelming and convoluted nature of products and money lines nowadays, we are not cooperating with evil when buying an iPod. I think the same applies to Starbucks outings and our Gmail accounts. We need not cut these things out just because the company has done something with which we disagree.

4)      How, then, should we express our social views?

Tying social issues up with consumerism isn’t helpful. We have enough tendencies to rationalize purchases we don’t need. Supporting various causes doesn’t need to be one of them. So what are we left with?—I say, the good ol’ way. We can donate to organizations we support. We can write editorials or even blogs. We can tell our friends. We can VOTE! We can select people to represent us who really do represent us. That’s their job anyway, not the job of chain coffee shops.

 5)      Is it right for governments to take positions for/against companies on the basis of social views?

Here is the big question. I believe it is very, very dangerous for cities, states, or even the country to limit businesses on the basis of their social views. Boston and Chicago have prominently condemned Chic-fil-A for supporting traditional marriage. To me, that seems extremely close to condemning them for their Christian worldview. And we should all know that government, in this country, is not supposed to support or oppose a particular religion.

Significantly, no city in Texas condemned Starbucks or vowed to try to limit its ability to grow because of its identification with the cause of gay marriage (at least that I know of).

Overall, I think buying, for the most part, needs to be de-politicized. I don’t think that boycotts are morally obligatory or even effective in these cases.

We need to think about how and why certain issues are causing bigger stirs than others and if perhaps we are being manipulated emotionally. Business is one thing; ideas are ideas. I understand that nothing is totally neutral; our choices are important and morally charged, but can’t there be a pleasant market place where we just exchange goods peacefully?

[It’s obviously different if one finds the product itself objectionable such as a vegetarian not eating at Outback Steakhouse.]

Are there certain issues that would entice you to boycott a business over it? How should we express our views in public square? Do consumer purchases really send messages? Should they?

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9 thoughts on “On Chic-fil-A and Starbucks: 5 Questions for Re-evaluating our Relationships with Business and Social Views

  1. Well… I am choosing not to eat at Chic-Fil-A again. My one person boycott will be not be effective in the least, and I don’t intend to picket them! But sometimes you just have to do as your conscience dictates.

  2. If a company wants to donate a share of it’s profits to a cause they believe in, by all means they should. If it’s a cause that by some accounts is controversial, personally I wouldn’t publicly come out and take a stand, only because from a business standpoint you have a good chance of alienating a sizable portion of your customers.
    As far as boycotting businesses goes, if it makes you feel better about yourself then sure, go ahead. There’s a certain brand of hummus that I really like and a few years ago I found out that the parent company provides financial support to a brigade involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When I first heard the news I thought, “Well I am never buying this hummus again!” But the thing is, I really prefer it to the other brands of hummus at the grocery store so I’m just going to keep on buying it.
    I’m not buying the hummus because I support gunning down Palestinians, I’m buying it because it tastes great. I’ll keep buying these products until the companies start stamping their religious/political/social beliefs on the actual products themselves.

  3. I have many jumbled opinions on this, though they might conflict or make little logical sense. First of all, I think it’s ridiculous that a company would have a “position” on political policies and cultural issues. It does nothing but hurt their business, because there ARE people who boycott business ideal’s they don’t agree with. Kelly is one of them. I don’t really like Chic-Fil-A anyway, so whatever. I think it’s fine for a company president or CEO to have an opinion, and even to promote it and talk about it. However, to say that the whole company feels this way is stupid. Not every cog in the business feels this way, only the leader. But he is announcing the whole company is for traditional marriage… A minor point, but it seems silly to me to say “this vast group of people who come from all different backgrounds all over the country support this view”. He probably HIRED gays who want to/have gotten married. Now, if I really disagreed with a company’s viewpoint THAT much-like if they killed puppies or something-I probably would boycott it. It all depends on how much that issue means to you. It means a lot to Kelly, so boycotting is how she feels she is supporting her beliefs. Personally, I think the gay marriage movement will not be hurt by this, I honestly think in just a few years, it will be legal in nearly all states. In another point, I don’t think many would have known that Chic-fil-A supports groups for traditional marriage had they not gone public with it. Many companies give their money to groups they support without the public really knowing it, so it is a bit silly to freak out about Chic-fil-A when most of us have no idea where our money is really going. Also, just as a side comment, there were many who did boycott Apple when they heard about the labor thing, Apple is just so huge that it wasn’t hurt by it, and it was never big news.

    • “Many companies give their money to groups they support without the public really knowing it, so it is a bit silly to freak out about Chic-fil-A when most of us have no idea where our money is really going.”

      Pretty much. That’s what makes the business/social issue tie ups so confusing and kind of pointless.

  4. “Why isn’t abortion the focal point?” This is my answer:

    The abortion battle has already been fought and lost. Sure there are occasional victories for the pro-life movement and some steps back from the culture of death, and though there are some passionate people on both sides, overall the abortion debate is in a state of détente.

    Americans feel it in their guts that the gay rights/marriage debate is rapidly heating up. Like a volcano ready to blow. Gay rights advocates feel they are finally on the cusp of real social change. Conservatives fear they are right.

    Christians and conservatives are also very frightened by the civil rights rhetoric that is being attached to the gay movement. They are afraid that they will be persecuted or labeled the equivalent of racist if they oppose homosexual marriage. Opposing abortion carries no criminal penalty -the civil rights analogy, if it becomes accepted, could bring the force of the federal government directly to bear against Christians and conservatives who opposed gay marriage.

    Abortion does worse damage to civil society, but there are more apparent and immediate stakes in the gay rights debate.

  5. Pingback: Why Are “Gay Rights” Center Stage in Public Discourse? « Conservative Vistas

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