It’s a mistake for corporations to take stances on political issues in the current delicate political climate, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says.
“I don’t think businesses should take a political stance. They should be good citizens in their communities in terms of trying to help solve social problems where they have competence to do so or where they can make philanthropic contributions that will help the communities they’re part of, but taking political positions, is, I believe, a mistake,” Mackey said in an interview with EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders” program.
“I’ve not agreed with what I’ve seen happen in the last few years, with more and more corporations taking certain advocacy position on political issues, because first of all, that’s going to be the leadership’s opinion that’s running those companies, that may not be the opinion of the of the investors, it may not be the opinions of the employees that work there, or the customers, or anyone else. It’s just the opinions of the leaders. And they’re forcing those opinions on their larger stakeholder group. And they risk alienating their customers who don’t agree with it—customers may stop doing business with them because they’re mad at them. They may find alternatives, they may just become disgusted and lose their respect for that organization,” he continued.
“And the reality is, a country like the United States is very politically polarized right now. So taking sides is not in the best interest of your stakeholders, it’s not in the best interest of your shareholders. It’s not in the best interest of your customers.”
Numerous large companies in recent years have opined on political issues, including coming out against an election reform law that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed this year. That led to a high-profile clash between Republicans in the state and companies that spoke out against the bill, including Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola.
A number of companies also expressed support last year for Black Lives Matter, a contentious movement that alleges racism is pervasive throughout American society and agitates for radical changes to longstanding institutions and ways of life.
Whole Foods has attempted to remain politically neutral. Mackey said he learned his lesson on expressing views on political issues in 2009 when he promoted alternatives to what is widely known as Obamacare, the healthcare system implemented through the Affordable Care Act.
In an op-ed at the time, Mackey said healthcare reform was clearly needed but expressed opposition to implementing a system that would lead to new unfunded deficits, and move the country closer to the government running the system. He outlined eight potential reforms he said would lower the cost of healthcare for everyone.
“Whole Foods was viciously attacked by people who didn’t agree with my point of view, even though it wasn’t Whole Foods’ point of view, I went out of my way to say these are not Whole Foods’ ideas, these are my ideas. They couldn’t distinguish between me and Whole Foods, so they attacked Whole Foods for disagreeing with my views. And that was a huge learning lesson for me,” Mackey said.
“So I have not taken political stance personally ever since in any kind of public way because I didn’t want the company to be harmed or hurt. And so I think the CEOs who are speaking up are actually damaging their businesses in the long run,” he added.