Thursday, July 25, 2024
A farm-supply chain vowed to cut DEI roles amid pressure. Outcry followed.

A farm-supply chain vowed to cut DEI roles amid pressure. Outcry followed.

Business


One of the country’s largest farm-supply retailers announced Thursday that it would cut diversity-focused positions and withdraw its carbon-emissions goals in a response to right-wing pressure that sparked an uproar from other customers and advocacy groups.

Tractor Supply Company made the changes after fielding criticism from customers about some of its programs, the Tennessee-based business said in a statement. It also vowed to stop submitting data to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, and to no longer sponsor Pride festivals and voting initiatives.

“We have heard from customers that we have disappointed them,” the company said. “We have taken this feedback to heart.”

The move was met with celebration from conservative activists — and consternation from others, including a New York animal sanctuary, LGBTQ+ organizations and an association that aims to support Black farmers.

Tractor Supply did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post on Saturday.

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The company is the latest to find itself at a crossroads between customers with different political beliefs. Last year, Bud Light’s sales dropped after it ran an advertisement featuring a transgender social media influencer, and Target lost business after revealing a Pride Month collection. And while a conservative legal campaign dismantles corporate and government diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, some companies are privately rebranding their DEI policies.

Tractor Supply, which sells animal feed, tractor parts and power tools at more than 2,230 stores nationwide, was recognized for its inclusiveness last year. Bloomberg praised it for promoting gender equality, while Newsweek called it one of the best U.S. companies for diversity.

“Our deeply rooted Mission and Values are the foundation of who we are as an organization,” Melissa Kersey, Tractor Supply’s executive vice president, said in a statement in February 2023. “They dictate that Tractor Supply prioritize a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment that values diversity of thought and perspective.”

But the company came under scrutiny this month when conservative podcast host Robby Starbuck denounced Tractor Supply’s diversity and climate policies. An employee recently had messaged him to complain that the company was supporting LGBTQ+ groups, Starbuck told The Washington Post.

Starbuck visited Tractor Supply weekly to buy provisions for his farm in Franklin, Tenn., he said, but wasn’t comfortable with the company putting money toward inclusion programs.

“Start buying what you can from other places until Tractor Supply makes REAL changes,” he wrote on X on June 6.

Other customers responded to say they would join the boycott, and the company’s share price fell by 5 percent in the past month, according to the Financial Times.

Starbuck and other conservative X users, including Libs of TikTok, publicly celebrated after Tractor Supply said it would roll back several of its policies.

“This is about getting back to an environment where businesses are just businesses again, and they’re not proxies for social values or political values,” Starbuck told The Post.

Others weren’t so happy.

John Boyd Jr., founder of the National Black Farmers Association, an advocacy group for African American farmers, told The Post that Tractor Supply is “sending the wrong message to America.” In four decades as a farmer, Boyd said, he has seen White farmers who made up about 95 percent of farmers in 2017 spit in Black farmers’ faces and call them the n-word.

“We’re just going backwards,” Boyd said of Tractor Supply’s decision.

SquirrelWood Equine Sanctuary, an animal sanctuary in Montgomery, N.Y., said Tractor Supply would no longer receive the more than $65,000 it usually spends there each year.

“You have lost our business and every shred of respect we might have had,” the sanctuary wrote on X.

Eric Bloem, vice president of programs and corporate advocacy for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement to The Post that Tractor Supply “is turning its back on their own neighbors.” Tennessee state Sen. Charlane Oliver (D) wrote on X that the company was “choosing hate and bigotry.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said Tractor Supply has brought “harm to their LGBTQ customers and employees.”

“Tractor Supply’s embarrassing capitulation to the petty whims of anti-LGBTQ extremists puts the company out of touch with the vast majority of Americans who support their LGBTQ friends, family, and neighbors,” Ellis said in a statement to The Post.

DEI programs became popular in many organizations during the racial-justice movement sparked by George Floyd’s murder in 2020. But backlash soon followed from critics who claimed the policies created new inequalities.

Frank Dobbin, a sociology professor at Harvard University who researches corporate diversity programs, said it’s rare for companies to publicly announce their reversal of diversity programs. Depending on how the move impacts Tractor Supply’s business, Dobbin said the company could be a “test case” that informs whether other organizations announce similar cuts.

“Is this going to cascade down to lots of other companies?” Dobbin asked. “Or is this going to be the lesson that other companies take, that you don’t want to reverse course on trying to promote equality?”



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