More than 13,000 people on Facebook have joined a boycott of Whole Foods, the grocery chain dedicated to organic and natural foods. The boycott continues to pick-up steam and is being covered by the mainstream media, including the New York Times and the Associated Press (Google lists more than 125 articles on the boycott this morning).
The grocery chain’s crime?
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week criticizing the Obama administration’s health care reform package. Mackey’s greatest blunder, however, may have been his decision to quote Margaret Thatcher, the former conservative prime minister of Britain, at the top of his column: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” Mackey quotes the Iron Lady as saying.
Nevermind that U.S. health care reform has nothing to with socialism.
Mackey’s op-ed has caused a sea-storm of protest – mostly from his own customers. Mackey clearly doesn’t have a great sense of who exactly his customers are – which by all accounts are liberal, green and wealthy. They are also passionately supportive of universal health care.
You don’t find many die-in-the-wool conservatives shopping Whole Foods for organic celery sticks or hemp yoga t-shirts. So why Mackey would choose to alienate his primary customer base by weighing in on the health care debate is anybody’s guess. It’s an example of a CEO who is completely out of touch with those he serves. And as a result, he’s created a public relations crisis for his company (and will probably lose the company millions of dollars).
“Here’s a thought: If you own a major supermarket chain that caters to a great deal of liberal-minded people with money, don’t rail against the evils of health care reform in the Wall Street Journal,” Brian Beulter wrote at TPM DC.
Hard to argue against that.
I disagree wholeheartedly with the rather limpid recommendations Mackey makes in his op-ed on how to reform health care, including tort reform to eliminate lawsuits against doctors who kill or harm their patients by negligence and reducing government regulation of private health insurance companies (because deregulation worked out so well in the financial sector).
“Mackey, playing to type, has offered a Whole Foods solution for health care: It makes the system even better for the rich and the young and the educated — the sort of people who shop at Whole Foods, in other words — and doesn’t do a lot for those who really need help,” Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post.
True, but I will not be boycotting my local Whole Foods supermarket (where my family shops each week).
Because Mackey should be free to express his political opinion without punishment. And protesters should be free to vociferously disagree with him. It’s called debate. But a boycott? Have we really gotten to the point in this caustic August that we’re going to penalize people we politically disagree with?
That’s rather harsh and unnecessary (and a bit shrill).
Whole Foods buys local produce, supports organic and sustainable farming, supports and raises money for local charities, provides employees with above average wages and benefits (compared to other supermarket chains), gives each worker health care coverage and provides delicious, fresh foods as an alternative to the processed, chemical-laden fare sold at many other grocery stores. I support those things.
Whole Foods is a good company and one that practices corporate social responsibility. While I disagree with Mackey on health care reform, I will do so without resorting to boycotting his stores. So I’m boycotting the boycott – and I think other’s should do the same.
Let’s move away from the rudeness and partisan screaming to a more civil discourse.
And if Mackey and Whole Foods needs some crisis communications help – I know an excellent PR agency they can call.