Equality Policies Earn Whole Foods Green Light for Shopping

WASHINGTON Whole Foods, Costco and Supervalu received high marks and landed in the acceptable green zone among retailers who practice non-discriminatory policies in the workplace, according to a recent survey by a civil rights organization. Kroger and Meijer, on the other hand, scored in the red, meaning these companies have work to do when it comes to furthering equality at their companies, according

WASHINGTON — Whole Foods, Costco and Supervalu received high marks and landed in the acceptable “green zone” among retailers who practice non-discriminatory policies in the workplace, according to a recent survey by a civil rights organization.

Kroger and Meijer, on the other hand, scored in the red, meaning these companies have work to do when it comes to furthering equality at their companies, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a group based here that works to achieve equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The organization has released its second annual Buying for Equality guide just in time for the start of the holiday shopping season. The guide ranks hundreds of companies based upon HRC's Corporate Equality Index, compiled on 446 companies. Among the companies are 14 food and drug retailers.

The index rates companies on a scale of 0% to 100% on 10 criteria, including whether a company has a written non-discrimination policy covering sexual orientation; supports transgender employees with written non-discrimination policies and benefits; offers inclusive health insurance, bereavement and family leave policies to employees with same-sex partners; offers diversity training; engages in appropriate and respectful advertising to the GLBT community; and declines to engage in any activities that would undermine the goal of equal rights for GLBT people.

HRC surveys companies from the Fortune 1,000, the Standard & Poor's 500, Forbes' list of the 200 largest privately held firms, the American Lawyer 100 and any other companies with 500 or more employees that request a rating or for which HRC has sufficient data to derive a score. The information from the Corporate Equality Index report is then repackaged to produce the buyers guide that recommends consumers shop those retailers who score 80 or above. According to the guide, the GLBT community wields buying power totaling $687 billion annually. In comparison, Hispanics and African Americans each represent about $798 billion in buying power, and Asians about $427 billion.

“Our goal in putting the equality guide out is to arm the consumer with the ability to make purchasing decisions for companies that are good on GLBT equality,” HRC spokesman Brad Luna said.

Among those retailers with scores of 80-100, who fall in the green zone and are rated the best place to shop, are: Whole Foods with a score of 95, Supervalu (85), Walgreens (100), Costco (93) and Target (80).

Those food retailers with scores of 46-79 are listed in the “yellow zone,” which denotes that they are making progress on equality issues, but can do better, are: Ahold's Giant Food/Stop & Shop (78), Food Lion (75), Safeway (70), Rite Aid (70), Hannaford Bros. (65), Wal-Mart (65) and Pathmark Stores (53).

Among retailers with scores of 0-45, falling in the “red zone,” are Kroger (35) and Meijer (0). The HRC tells consumers to avoid, if possible, those retailers in the red.

While Kroger received points for its policy prohibiting discrimination on sexual orientation, for offering diversity training that includes sexual orientation, and engaging in appropriate and respectful marketing and philanthropy, it failed to earn points on all other criteria. Meijer failed to earn any points on any of the 10 criteria.

Luna said the HRC works with companies like Whole Foods to bring their scores into the acceptable range. It hopes to get the attention of companies like Kroger and Meijer who fail to achieve acceptable scores based on their equality policies or lack of them.

Neither Kroger nor Meijer could be reached for comment.

Whole Foods, which does not generally comment to the trade press, did say it was able to change its original score of 57 last year to 100 by supplying HRC with updated information. This year the Austin, Texas-based retailer fell short of a perfect score because of a new criterion requiring retailers to offer domestic partners dental, vision, COBRA and dependent coverage.

“At Whole Foods Market, we are proud to have received the highest score [among food retailers] in the Buying for Equality guide this year. This ranking is important to us, and it validates the value we place on diversity and respect for individuals,” stated Amy Schaefer, a spokeswoman, in a written response.

Supervalu, Minneapolis, said it neither endorses nor denigrates any particular lifestyle. “Our employees are our most valuable resource,” spokeswoman Haley Meyer said in a written response. “Enabling each person to feel comfortable and to contribute fully is a key factor to our continued success. We must maintain an attractive and inclusive work environment for people of all backgrounds. We believe our employee base should reflect the population of the markets we serve at all levels of the organization.”

HRC said it is making progress in raising scores at companies and drawing attention to equality. This year's index reported 138 major companies earning the top rating of 100%. That number is up from 101 in 2005, and has grown tenfold in four years.

Jeff Lowrance, a spokesman for Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., said the company was pleased to be recognized for its work in creating a company that champions diversity and inclusion. “This index is another indication of the success of our efforts, while helping us maintain our focus on continued growth and progress,” he said.

He added that diversity and inclusion were key components of Food Lion's business strategy “to further establish and maintain an environment in which all of our customers, associates and business partners feel welcomed and respected. As an ongoing process, we continually evaluate our benefit programs to ensure we provide a workplace that meets our strategic focus on diversity and inclusion.”

“The majority of companies are going higher rather than down,” Luna said. “Kroger is not reacting to our CEI the way we'd like them to. Companies like Kroger that are lower and really not paying attention to the work we are doing can realize that there is an impact to the bottom line.”

Margaret Morford, a human resources consultant and president of The HR Edge, Brentwood, Tenn., agrees that more companies are sensitive to equality issues and offering more benefits to same-sex domestic partners. However, she pointed out, many of those benefits are taxed and are not used as often as one might think. Therefore, the cost of such programs isn't prohibitive, and HRC may be taking credit for what is an “easy give” anyway.

Equality policies and benefits are just good business, Morford said. “In the grocery store industry, it's important that every dime adds to the bottom line,” she said. “You want to be the kind of business that attracts everybody's buying dollars. If this group swings $687 billion in spending, I would want my piece of that. Balanced against this is the humanity in the workplace.”

Where to Shop

The buying power of the U.S. gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is estimated to be $687 billion in 2007. The Human Rights Campaign is asking consumers to patronize those companies that score 80 or higher on its Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies on their equality policies and benefits in the workplace. Below are some of the retailers who were rated.

Walgreens 100
Whole Foods Market 95
Costco 93
Supervalu 85
Target 80
Giant Food 78
Food Lion 75
Rite Aid 70
Safeway 70
Hannaford Bros. 65
Wal-Mart Stores 65
Pathmark 53
Kroger 35
Meijer 0
Green Best Places to Shop
Yellow Companies Making Progress
Red Avoid if Possible
Source: Human Rights Campaign Buying for Equality 2007