Religion and the LGBT community have lit up headlines for the last couple of weeks as controversial legislation has been debated and even given the green light in some states.
Known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), this type of bill would prevent state and local governments from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs without a compelling interest. These most notably include Indiana SB 568, Arkansas HB 1228, and Georgia SB 129, though other religious liberty bills are up for debate. The main concern of those opposing the legislation is that these bills would enable businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community.
LGBT and civil rights activists aren’t the only groups speaking out against these pieces of legislation. Major corporations, including several food companies, have taken a stand. Here are a few food companies which have something to say about religious freedom and equality.
Wal-Mart has taken action beyond speaking out against Arkansas’ RFRA. Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillan released a statement requesting that Gov. Asa Hutchinson veto the RFRA. According to 4029TV.com, McMillan said in a statement, "It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today's passage of H.B. 1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold."
The Drum reports that as Wal-Mart originally came from a small Arkansas town, the corporation usually either does not participate in controversy or maintains a conservative position. However, in a statement against the RFRA, McMillan said, "Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve."
Coca-Cola spoke up about the legislation in Georgia. A statement from the company disparaged any legislation of this kind in its home state or elsewhere, saying, "We believe policies that would allow a business to refuse service to an individual based upon discrimination of any kind, does not only violate our Company's core values, but would also negatively affect our consumers, customers, suppliers, bottling partners and associates."
Coca-Cola has long supported LGBT equality, particularly in its corporate structure. The company received a 100% score on the HRC Foundation's 2015 Corporate Equality Index, which examines corporate policies and practices in terms of LGBT equality in the workplace.
Tyson has spoke out against the bills particularly in Arkansas. In a statement from Tyson, Arkansas' second-largest employer, the prepared food and meat producer implored lawmakers to create a final bill that "protects and preserves our religious freedom, will not allow discriminatory practices in the workplace and does not create further damage to our state's reputation," reported Financial Times.
Tyson also said that HB 1228 "will not affect how we treat our team members, neighbors, customers or shareholders," and that the company continues to work toward fostering a diverse and faith-friendly environment in the workplace, according to a company spokesperson and 4029TV.com
Monsanto, along with a number of other companies, signed the "Equality is Our Business" pledge from the Human Rights Campaign to speak out against the recent legislation. The company has also requested that other businesses and the agricultural community speak out as well.
According to a press release, Monsanto chairman and CEO Hugh Grant said, "We want our employees and customers, no matter what state they live in, to know that they are valued. … Monsanto has a long history of employing a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive environment for our employees. We are committed to recruiting, hiring, retaining, and promoting employees from all dimensions of diversity, including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and we oppose discrimination of any kind."
Monsanto's position on the legislation is no surprise, as the Human Rights Campaign named Monsanto one of the best places to work for LGBT equality. Like Coca-Cola, Monsanto also earned a score of 100% on the group’s annual Corporate Equality Index.
Tim Hassinger, CEO of Dow AgroSciences, was one of nine corporate executive signatories of a one-page letter hand-delivered to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Indiana’s House Speaker Brian Bosma, and Senate President David Long. This coalition of businesses "has lobbied against the controversial RFRA legislation, marking one of the most active and heated political lobbying campaigns that Indiana businesses have ever undertaken on a social issue," according to USA TODAY.
In the letter, the nine companies expressed that they are "deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state,” USA TODAY reported. The letter requests that the governor and legislature begin immediately working toward new legislation to prevent business owners using the RFRA to discriminate against residents or visitors based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
More businesses are joining the fight against the RFRA and similar legislation, but, according to Human Rights Campaign, more than 100 religious freedom bills are still due for a vote in 29 state legislatures.
As these companies stood up against these bills, governors of both Indiana and Arkansas, both of whom are Republicans and were initially in strong favor of the legislation, asked legislatures to revisit the bills to ensure LGBT discrimination is not encouraged. Since, bills in both Indiana and Arkansas have been amended.
In Indiana, lawmakers have ensured that business owners do not use the law "as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on factors that include race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service," the Associated Press reported. In Arkansas, the newly amended law now says that it "only addresses actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals, and supporters said that would prevent businesses from using it to deny services to individuals," according to the Associated Press.
Corporations can provide financial support as well as verbal support. If these bills continue to pile up, we may see more action taken by food companies to effect change in the structure of the business world and businesses' relations with consumers.