Friday, August 20, 2010

HRC: Shop at Target

It may sound crazy, but not only is the Human Rights Campaign refraining from joining the boycott against Target; it is still actively telling LGBT people through its Buying for Equality 2010 buyer's guide (for which the group has an iPhone app) that they should spend their hard-earned cash at Target, something which was confirmed by Fred Sainz of HRC when I had him on the show on Wednesday (audio of interview below). And that's because Target is still scoring a 100% on HRC's Corporate Equality Index -- a measure of workplace practices toward LGBT people -- and HRC tells LGBT people to shop till they drop at these high-scoring "equality-friendly" businesses.

Let me first say it's great to see HRC speak forcefully about Target's $150,000 political donation to a group that gave money to an antigay candidate and Target's refusal to now match that donation with one to a pro-gay cause or candidate. HRC's Joe Solmonese said in a statement after talks broke down,"If their initial contribution was a slap in the face, their refusal to make it right is a punch in the gut and that’s not something that we will soon forget."

Tough words, and I applaud them. But what exactly is Target's punishment now for the gut punch HRC will not soon forget? HRC announced in response to Target's refusal to "make it right" that it would now donate $150,000 to a pro-gay Democrat challenging the antigay Republican whom Target's money went to in the Minnesota gubernatorial race. I'm glad to see HRC helping local activists to defeat homophobes in elections around the country, as the group has commendably done in the past.

But how exactly is this a punishment for Target? I would hope, after all, that HRC would be helping out in the election in Minnesota, where the stakes are high for LGBT people, whether or not Target donated to an antigay candidate.

I posed the question of ramifications for Target to Fred Sainz on the show:

Signorile: My question is, how is the $150,000 that you’re donating...a punishment to Target?...What are you doing exactly to Target?...Are you joining the boycott? is calling for a boycott.Is HRC telling people they shouldn’t shop at Target?

Sainz: No, the organization doesn’t have an official position on the boycott. We think that consumers need to make their own decisions and that each person has an awful lot of choices today...And certainly this will inform consumers’ decisions on where they should make their purchases...


Signorile:...The [Corporate] Equality Index is a position on the boycott, because the reason you give the equality index is to tell people where to shop...

Sainz: No, that’s not true.

Signorile:...and what companies they should support...

Sainz: No, no, that's not true. The Corporate Equality Index is a measure of the workplace practices of companies. It was started as a guide of what the best employers are for LGBT people...It is not meant to be a statement on a company’s wholistic behavior. It is rather a measurement of the workplace practices of a company. That’s really–-

Signorile: HRC does tell people to shop at equality-friendly businesses, even has an app that is devoted to that.

Sainz: That is true.

Signorile: Okay, so the equality-friendly businesses are those that score high on the Corporate Equality Index.

Sainz: That is true…

Signorile: So right now, at this moment, Target still has a 100, and that means that’s a good place to shop.

Sainz went on to again explain how complicated it supposedly is to change the Corporate Equality Index criteria (something he told me a week earlier when I had him on the show) and how the group is trying to “grapple” with the new changes since the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United and that they don’t want to make a "knee-jerk" response and that they are working it through but in a "thoughtful” manner. That’s all well and good, but the boycott is now, and as it goes on, HRC (which, Sainz confirms, to HRC's credit, is no longer allowing Target to sponsor any of the group's fundraisers) is still telling people to shop at Target.

Listen in below.

UPDATE: Let me just add that the bigger problem here is HRC offering a "buyer's guide" at all. You're not an ad agency for corporations; you're a civil rights group. I know other groups do it, but it will always run into trouble. If you're going to do it you need to be able to quickly fix it, such as in a situation like this.

It's fine and good to list companies based on workplace practices and they should be letting LGBT people know what are the best companies to work for. But telling people to spend their money at these companies -- and then HRC taking donations from these companies, as they have done with Target -- puts your group in a bad position. It appears as if the reason for the buyer's guide is to get donations from the companies in return for sending LGBT consumers to them. And the reason HRC is now "grappling" and trying to figure out what to do is because they're worried about other companies in their index, some of which no doubt also give to antigay causes or candidates. If they remove Target they'll have to remove others. They shouldn't have been in this position -- or should be able to react quickly and change the buyer's guide immediately when a problem arises.

UPDATE II: Another thought: A simple solution for HRC, if it feels it wants to tell LGBT consumers where to shop, is to separate the Buyer's Guide from the Corporate Equality Index. For the buyers guide rate companies based on how they support the larger LGBT community and what donations they make to causes and candidates. And keep the Corporate Equality Index separate, as a rating of workplace practices.

HRC has done the right thing this afternoon and taken Target -- and Best Buy -- off of its buyer's guide. Kudos to them!