business news in context, analysis with attitude

Last week, MNB reported:

“Patagonia, the outdoor gear and clothing purveyor that has taken an increasingly high profile public policy profile in recent years especially when it comes to environmental issues, has decided that there are certain people to whom it does not want to sell clothing.

“The specific clothing in question are its fleece and puffer vests and jackets that have become a wardrobe staple for many Wall Street and Silicon Valley executives; Patagonia’s corporate sales division apparently has made a pretty good living by selling these items with corporate logos on them.

“In the past, Patagonia sold them to anyone who wanted them. But no more.

Bloomberg reports that Patagonia has shifted its focus to ‘mission-driven companies that prioritize the planet,’” and now wants to ‘add more companies that have the B Corp designation to its client list -- businesses that meet certain environmental, social and transparency standards and are certified by a private organization. Patagonia itself is a B Corp and some financial and technology firms also have that status’.”

And I commented:

I’m sure that Patagonia will get some grief for this Eye-Opening approach to business … but not from me. I’m perfectly happy to do business with a company that makes quality products and has rejiggered its corporate motto to say, ‘We’re in business to save our home planet’.

As the great John Mellencamp sings, “You gotta stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”

To which one MNB reader responded:

Just so I understand...

A baker does not want to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, and we want laws to force  him/her to do so.  Because we don’t want to allow discrimination.  Got it.

Patagonia does not want its fleece to be worn by Wall Street types.  Or, rather, they want their fleece only worn by those that agree with them the planet needs saving.  Get a B rating in some system someone designed.  OK.

But wait, wouldn’t the same law say Patagonia does not get a say in the matter?   They have to sell to everyone who comes knocking on the door, just like the baker does.  

Rules are rules, no?

Help me understand how the baker who chooses to NOT do business with gays / latinos / blacks / catholics / jews / whatever differs from Patagonia?   Either we allow sellers to choose buyers; or we don’t.  But we don’t get to cherry pick.

I think this observation is absolutely right, and that I was guilty of being hypocritical when I wrote my commentary.

In the past, I was critical of the baker who refused to make the wedding cake for a gay couple because I thought that he ought not be allowed to discriminate in that way, but I also was critical because I fundamentally disagree with the baker’s position.

But I supported Patagonia’s decision only to business with people and companies with which it agrees because I fundamentally agree with its pro-environment and anti-Wall Street point of view … even though, if I were consistent, I would’ve argued that this is, in fact, discrimination.

I was being inconsistent. And hypocritical. And just plain wrong.

If some person - let’s say, a Wall Street type who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe his kid’s way into an Ivy League school - is photographed wearing a Patagonia vest, nobody thinks that Patagonia is endorsing his value system. Rather, if they think about it at all, they think, “Gee, that guy may be an entitled slime-ball, but he has pretty good taste in vests.”

Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule that Patagonia ought to sell to any organization. If the KKK, for example, wanted white hooded vests with the initials of the organization on them, I think we could all agree that Patagonia would be well devised to turn down that order. But I think we all have to concede that the KKK is different from, say, Goldman Sachs.

I think this criticism of my commentary seems entirely justified. And I’m glad it was brought to my attention.
KC's View: