In the mid-fifties, my father-in-law, Harry Rich, a floor-covering retailer, made a pact with George Jenkins, the founder and CEO of Publix. The men decided to join forces to oppose a nascent trend in the retail industry: remaining open for business on Sunday. Their reason was simple; they believed their employees deserved to spend more time with their families, and they were happy to forgo profits for principle.
They even used this moral stand as a selling point to customers.Their advertising was often boldly emblazoned with “Closed on Sunday.” Each man fought this uphill battle for several years, to the detriment of their companies' bottom lines. To these men, ethics and values were valuable forms of currency, too.
Fast forward to the present day. The decisions coming out of Lakeland stand in stark contrast to those of the past. Over the last three years, Publix has given $670,000 to a Florida gubernatorial candidate who has aggressively pushed to increase the number of guns on college campuses and believes open-carry of firearms in public places is a fantastic idea. In fact, by his own admission, he is a “proud NRA sellout.”
Publix is predictably claiming it is merely supporting a “hometown” candidate and not the NRA as an entity. The two are one and the same when the candidate’s stances on guns are examined.
Good corporate governance involves balancing the interests of a company's shareholders with those of the larger community it seeks to serve. By eagerly backing a candidate who gleefully supports the agenda of the NRA, this balance comes into question.
The practices by which a corporation is directed and controlled must play a part in our decision, as customers, to patronize it. I’ve been a loyal Publix shopper for over 50 years, but they’ve turned a blind eye to the threat gun violence poses to our children, families, and communities. I can no longer shop at an establishment that purports to be a responsible community steward, while at the same time advancing the agenda of the NRA.
As Americans, we are lucky enough to be able to cast votes with both our pens and our wallets. Going forward, I plan to use the power of my purse to show Publix my disapproval of their political contributions.
Considering the loss of life our country suffers daily from gun violence, staunch opposition to even the most reasonable of gun restrictions is plainly a bad ethical practice. Publix may learn the hard way that it’s also a bad business practice.
In response to protests by consumers, students, and employees, Publix has already announced a suspension of political contributions. I hope this is the first step in reevaluating their contribution policies.
Publix should look at the example set by the courageous students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who understand that we need sensible gun laws and responsible adults in office to enact them.
Nan Rich is a Broward County Commissioner. She served as a Democratic member of the Florida Senate from 2004 to 2012. She was Senate minority leader from 2010 to 2012, until she was term-limited in 2012.