Levi Strauss is willing to upset some consumers to stand for its principles.
The company had already requested that gun owners leave their firearms at home when shopping at Levi’s stores; this came after a customer shot himself while trying on a pair of jeans in 2016.
Providing a safe environment to work and shop is a top priority for us at Levi Strauss & Co. That imperative is quickly challenged, however, when a weapon is carried into one of our stores. Recently, we had an incident in one of our stores where a gun inadvertently went off, injuring the customer who was carrying it.
So, while we understand the heartfelt and strongly-held opinions on both sides of the gun debate, it is with the safety and security of our employees and customers in mind that we respectfully ask people not to bring firearms into our stores, offices or facilities, even in states where it’s permitted by law. Of course, authorized members of law enforcement are an exception.
The company is building on those actions. Again, Bergh is the face of the company’s message.
He wrote a commentary piece in Fortune magazine outlining the company’s decision to align itself with the gun control movement in the U.S.
It reads, in part:
As president and CEO of a values-driven company that’s known the world over as a pioneer of the American West and one of the great symbols of American freedom, I take the responsibility of speaking up on the important issues of our day very seriously. We can’t take on every issue. But as business leaders with power in the public and political arenas, we simply cannot stand by silently when it comes to the issues that threaten the very fabric of the communities where we live and work. While taking a stand can be unpopular with some, doing nothing is no longer an option.
That’s why Levi Strauss & Co. is stepping up our support for gun violence prevention. You may wonder why a company that doesn’t manufacture or sell guns is wading into this issue, but for us, it’s simple. Americans shouldn’t have to live in fear of gun violence. It’s an issue that affects all of us—all generations and all walks of life.
Bergh announced the formation of the Safer Tomorrow Fund to help nonprofits seeking to end gun violence. He said Levi Strauss executives will partner with Michael Bloomberg and others to create Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety, with an eye to bringing other businesses on board.
The company will also double its usual employer match program for employees who want to donate to gun control advocates.
Bergh acknowledged that the move from Levi Strauss might be unpopular for some, but he cited statistics that most Americans want tougher gun laws. He also pointed to his company’s history of speaking out on cultural issues.
As a company, we have never been afraid to take an unpopular stand to support a greater good. We integrated our factories in the American South years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. We offered benefits to same-sex partners in the 1990s, long before most companies did. We pulled our financial support for the Boy Scouts of America when it banned gay troop leaders.
While each one of these stands may have been controversial at the time, history proved the company right in the long run. And I’m convinced that while some will disagree with our stand to end gun violence, history will prove this position right too.
The company also announced its actions on its website and on social media.
— Levi Strauss & Co. (@LeviStraussCo) September 4, 2018
On Twitter, many applauded the move:
Loving the leadership coming from corporate America in the past 24 hours. https://t.co/P6Fd6NJr8i
— Kelly Hoey (@jkhoey) September 4, 2018
— Elizabeth Banks (@ElizabethBanks) September 4, 2018
— Kate Folmar (@Kfolmar) September 4, 2018
Guess I’m wearing Wranglers.
— Rev Tom (@Pastortomw) September 4, 2018
I’ve been a Levi’s customer for 30 years. No more.
— tankboy2adfwd (@tankboy2adfwd88) September 4, 2018
The move comes at the same time that Nike has published ads featuring Colin Kaepernick, aligning the sportswear company with NFL protesters who want to draw attention to police violence against unarmed black citizens. Though both actions risk alienating some customers, analysts predict the companies will come out ahead.
In Nike’s case, the controversy gave the brand plenty of media coverage.
In less than 24 hours since Kaepernick first revealed the spot on Twitter, Nike received more than $43 million worth of media exposure, the vast majority of it neutral to positive, according to Apex Marketing Group. That far outweighs the risk of alienating some customers, said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing executive at Baker Street Advertising.
What’s more, he said, the move sends a strong signal to their current roster of athletes and positions Nike as a savvy risk-taker. “It’s not a move that any company can make, but for Nike it’s definitely smart business,” Dorfman said.
What do you think of these companies who are taking a controversial stand for what they believe to be right? What might you do differently?