Kroger's annual meeting on Thursday is expected to see a number of shareholder proposals that reflect both sides of the political spectrum, all of which the company wants voted down.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports this morning that there are "five issues being put to non-binding votes for shareholders by activist investors," including:
"Arujna Capital wants Kroger to disclose its median pay by race and gender, noting its own research finds Black workers in the U.S. earn 64% of what white workers are paid and women earn 83% of what men are paid, among other findings."
"Conservative group the National Center for Public Policy Research wants Kroger to issue a report about the potential risks of not guarding against discrimination based on 'viewpoint' and 'ideology,' which are not protected by federal law." The group notes that Kroger "has pulled merchandise with pro-gun and other political statements, while also issuing an 'allyship guide' toward treatment of LGBTQ people. The group cited news articles of 'woke backlash' at Kroger from Fox News and other conservative outlets."
"The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia want Kroger to commission a report that discloses the public harm from the tobacco products it sells. They cite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that estimates more than $600 billion in U.S. economic costs from the effects of smoking."
"Nonprofit shareholder advocate As You Sow wants Kroger to produce a report describing how the company could reduce its plastics use in alignment with the findings of a 2020 Pew Charitable Trusts report. In its proxy, the group also wants Kroger to include its risk of financial liability should 'governments require them to cover the waste management costs of the packaging they produce'."
"The Louis B & Diana R Eichold Trust wants Kroger to list charitable gifts of more than $10,000 on its website," believing that such disclosure "would provide enhanced feedback opportunities from which our Company could make more beneficial choices.”
Newsmax provides greater detail about this latter proposal, saying that some activist investors are challenging Kroger's policy "to provide up to $4,000 in travel costs to employees seeking out-of-state abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had legalized abortion nationally. The high court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization returned the abortion issue to the states."
Attorney Rachel Citak, president of Cincinnati Right to Life, tells Newsmax that "right now, Kroger shoppers, Kroger shareholders, Kroger employees, they have no idea how much of the profits are going to organizations in the abortion industry." She says that "Cincinnati Right to Life will renew its push for a boycott of Cincinnati-based Kroger if shareholders are unpersuaded to pass the resolution … Citak said her organization was inspired by recent campaigns aimed at companies employing woke policies. The financial toll of the pride backlash by conservatives against Anheuser-Busch, Kohl's, and Target has resulted in a collective $28.7 billion loss in market value since the beginning of April, according to Axios."
"I think that that was very inspiring to know that these companies that had enacted principles that were anti-woman were being held accountable," Citak tells Newsmax. "We now want to have that same transparency."
- KC's View:
Most of the women I know would challenge the notion that Kroger's policy of providing $4,000 in abortion-related travel costs is anti-women. In fact, they'd argue precisely the opposite. But let's put that aside for the moment.
Kroger's position on most of these proposals seems to be pretty simple.
It believes that the compensation proposal is unnecessary because its “compensation practices promote diversity, inclusion and fair pay across our workforce," and that its inclusive approach to diversity extends to an understanding that “our associates have a wide range of viewpoints." (By the way, Kroger may have a specific view on pro-gun t-shirts because it has had to deal with mass shootings in its stores.)
On the matter of tobacco sales, Kroger says that a) it only sells such products to people legally allowed to buy them, b) follows all state and local laws, and c) believes that its customers have freedom of choice. And, regarding the call for a plastics report, "Kroger, which has 33 production plants nationwide and produces a third of its house-branded products that generate a total of $30 billion in annual sales, said the report is unnecessary as it already has plans to cut its plastic packaging."
In the broadest sense, Kroger says that its funding information already is available "in annual reports by its two foundations: The Kroger Co. Foundation and The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation."
But let's be clear, because the activists have laid it out there. They want to bring to bear the kind of pressure that already has been put on Anheuser-Busch when it comes to its attempt to expand its audience to include transgender people, and on Target and Kohls for marketing efforts focused on Pride month and the LGBTQ+ community.
I hope that Kroger is able to resist the anti-choice folks in the same way that it plans to resist the other shareholder calls. It won't be easy, because no business wants to be placed in the cross-hairs, but I'm not sure that the folks at Anheuser-Busch, Target or Kohl's have been well-served by trying to be accommodating.