Boycotts, currently popular as a way to try to punish political views and, more directly, Donald Trump and his family, have long been an imperfect way to send a message.
The misguided effort by an anti-Trump group to spur a boycott of L.L. Bean illustrates why.
The group Grab Your Wallet decided to list L.L. Bean among dozens of companies it says consumers should consider boycotting because Linda Bean, one of 10 people on the company’s board of directors and the granddaughter of the founder, Leon Leonwood Bean, contributed most of the money to a PAC that supported Trump last year, apparently in violation of Federal Election Commission rules. The group did not target Linda Bean’s own but much smaller company Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine, which owns lobster restaurants and lodgings and offers Wyeth tours.
Before you forgo ever buying another flannel shirt from the retailer, you might first consider that in 2015 L.L. Bean employed more than 5,000 year-round workers, many of them in Maine. During the winter holidays, the employment count reached nearly 10,000. L.L. Bean has manufacturing facilities in Brunswick and Lewiston, where more than 400 employees make their products. Undoubtedly those workers hold views that differ from one company leader and from one another.
More important, L.L. Bean has kept is strong presence in Maine — its distribution facility is also located here — though it would likely be more cost efficient to locate many operations elsewhere. It is hard to put a value on this commitment to Maine.
In 2015 the Freeport-based company raised $1.74 million for United Way — a record-breaking campaign for the statewide charity organization. The company has donated more than $14 million to conservation organizations in the last decade and more than $6 million to health and human services organizations. Its executives have given more, in both time and money.
L.L. Bean, which is privately held and family owned, was the first Maine company to use biodiesel in its heavy-duty truck fleet — in 2003, reducing pollution. And, Forbes magazine ranked it No. 5 on its list of best employers in the U.S. in 2015.
Does one board member’s political leanings outweigh those accomplishments? We don’t believe it does.
We encourage people to look deeper, beyond what the heads of companies and board members say or to what cause they give their money. Put their words in the context of the company’s larger operations and policies.
Are you trying to hurt a business only because of the leader’s beliefs? What if that business employs your neighbors? Businesses are made up of people in your community or state who have a variety of views, and your boycott may unintentionally affect those you didn’t mean to harm.
You don’t have to agree with someone’s political stance to understand that they have a right to express their views. But the expression of a company’s leader is only a part of the business’ operations. Spend your money where you wish; just make sure you understand the potential effect.