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Call corporate

A few days before Christmas Day I was shopping at my local Rite Aid store in their Christmas aisle. There, hanging right about at eye level (I'm short) were Christmas undies, gift suggestions, both his and hers. The female pair stated "I'm single" and then expressed, in rhyme, an eagerness to fornicate. The male pair, boxer shorts, were covered with a reiterated question which means, approximately, "How are you doing?" but asks it in much cruder terms.

I let this information percolate for a few days and then, encouraged by a Facebook friend, decided to make a winsome appeal to the counter girl on Christmas Eve, when I happened to be back in the store. Making it clear that I wasn't blaming her in the least and that I hated to make any complaint on Christmas Eve, I mentioned the offensive merchandise. She was very sympathetic to my point of view but said, frankly, "You'll have to call corporate." She explained that the local store is obligated to sell whatever "corporate" sends them and that "corporate" even sends spotters to make sure they aren't hiding the merchandise.

So I took a few days off from culture warring and then, on the 27th, called corporate. To their credit, within five minutes of having explained the situation to a customer service agent on the phone, I received the following e-mail from someone in middle management:

Dear Lydia Mcgrew- Thank you for your comment and concern. I have brought this to the attention of our corporate office for future buying purposes. We appreciate all our customers input and take that in to consideration when determining products that we carry. We try to satisfy all customers. I have relocated this merchandise in this store so it is not deemed offensive. I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you in your shopping experience. As you requested email contact, if you would like to speak to me directly,please let me know or contact me at the office listed below.

I hate to break it to him, but he probably can't satisfy all customers. On the other hand, the skanky undies didn't exactly seem to be selling quickly. The store's stock of Christmas chocolate oranges were gone by the 21st while the underwear were around a lot longer. One has to wonder, who would buy these, and to whom would one give them? Especially the women's? One single woman to another, "Here, I thought you'd like these slut underwear. Aren't they hilarious?"

I went by today. The women's pair was gone, but the men's pair was still there, only very slightly relocated to a point further down in the same aisle with the other leftover Christmas merchandise. I asked a sort-of-manager if they'd heard from corporate. She said she hadn't but that she wasn't really the manager, that the manager wasn't in yet, and that perhaps she had.

Well, we can hope that they don't get them in again next year.

This incident seems to me to embody both some good and more bad about corporatism in America. On the one hand, one appreciates the prompt response. One can also hope that customer complaints will have an effect, if not enough to get the merchandise hidden and sent back promptly this year, to prevent its supply next year. On the other hand, there is the casual crudity that even tries to sell such trash in the first place. And then there is the lack of local control: In essence, you can't simply work with the local manager and get the junk taken away if the local manager is willing.

I fully realize that this is pretty minor compared to the more hard-core stuff that is put in the faces of Americans and their children every day. I don't have television channels, so I avoid much of it. But I'm thinking now that I should take aim at the issues of Cosmopolitan with their positively pornographic headlines staring everybody in the face at the checkout aisle of the local grocery store. That will be a little more sensitive, because I have an even longer-standing and more positive relationship with the manager of the local grocery store. I do intend to make it clear to all and sundry that I mean no criticism of the locals. In fact, I know exactly what I should do when it comes to asking that Cosmo be taken down or covered up:

Call corporate.

Comments (21)

We have stores selling thongs to girls under 10 years old. It's things like that and what you saw at Rite Aid that makes Nice Marmot's economic critiques have a real ring of truth to them at times.

Issues like these would be perfect for shareholder activism. Unless I've missed something, decency advocates tend to focus on consumer feedback and miss the opportunity to confront corporate governance directly.

This is a flaw in the conservative movement as a whole. I've known about shareholder activism since watching early Michael Moore movies. I can only recall one example of that activism from a "conservative" perspective, organized by the group Children of God for Life.

Have I missed any other examples? Are there any culturally conservative groups that organize, train and fund shareholder activists?

Mike, I regard this as a moral critique more than an economic one, per se. What especially strikes me is that I doubt this made any real money for them. It was just "something to try." What annoys me is that they obviously had a "what the heck" attitude about it.

That being said, it's of course legitimate to remember (and this was one reason I put up the post) that there are plenty of sources of evil and coarsening in our country, and the people who run corporations have by no means been conceived without taint of original sin! Very often, for whatever reasons of their own, they are selling things that are part of the problem.

Kevin J. Jones, I'm very happy to learn: What would shareholder activism look like in this case or the Cosmopolitan case?

So far I haven't seen anything too egregious around these parts (except at the mall which I try to avoid except when traveling by bus, where I have no choice but to go straight by it). I am glad you took the time to protest the marketing of this kind of material, but I know plenty of people would defend this material amongst consenting adults.


I don't know too much about this area. As far as I can tell, shareholder activism involves getting a certain number of shares (or becoming a proxy for friendly shareholders) then going to the company's shareholder meeting and proposing a resolution.

The resolution would be something like you'd see in a state legislature or a board room. "Whereas Rite Aid's sale of lewd or lascivious items offends the moral sense of local communities and harms the company image, the company shall not sell these items."

Since businesses prefer their annual meetings to run smoothly, sometimes just the threat of a resolution is enough to get a personal meeting with an executive or two, and even some concessions.

Unfortunately, this kind of activism involves some travel costs and requires some diplomacy and expertise. However, the payoff is that you have another avenue of influence and another means for cultivating future talent.

I'm sure a capable activist can find allies on corporate boards and among other shareholders who otherwise would not be involved in these issues. Given capable backing, an executive might even ally with culturally conservative concerns to advance his career, the way some executives now back "diversity" concerns.

This is a big activism gap on the cultural right.

I don't know why pro-lifers haven't targeted insurance companies to pressure them to provide a health plan option that excludes elective abortion coverage, for instance.


What an amazing story -- I wonder if Walmart would sell a product like that? Meanwhile, I couldn't agree with you more about the gauntlet of sin one has to go through at every single supermarket checkout that exists -- it's not just Cosmo, although they are almost beyond parody at this point as every single issue screams something lascivious about "sex inside" from the cover -- it seems like there are four or five magazines that now compete with them to show slutty women on the cover and/or celebrities in various states of undress or articles about sex, sex, sex. And all I want to do is get the milk and veggies and bagels and get out of there quickly (which is why I use the self-serve lines if I can).

I wonder if you required those magazines to be sold 'behind the counter', like regular pornography, if any women would bother with them anymore?

Kevin J, I like your idea, but I thought that in order to have any kind of realistic impact it would be necessary to have a notable number of shares, like 1% or something, not just a handful.

Jeff, I am not sure why women would "bother with them anymore" for any reason, seeing that they obviously cannot deliver what they proclaim on the outside. Then again, I don't read them, so I am speaking from a void of ignorance (if not knowing what these articles about "5 ways to ..." say can be called ignorance, that is).

The primary grocery store that we patronize has at least 2 to 3 aisles where they have no magazines at all, just candy and other junk. I am sure that this is a corporate policy, as all their stores seem do it. I would love to suggest to corporate headquarters that they simply drop Cosmo and similar crud from their stores. Or at least put them behind something to block the pictures. I doubt that it will do much good, but how likely is it to do any harm, either?

Kroger started putting black shields over everything but the name of the magazine on Cosmopolitan about ten years ago. Or so Internet articles tell me. I don't think we have Kroger around here, so I can't go and check.

I think that was a pretty big victory (though it's bad enough for them to keep selling them), and I think we can use it in appealing to other stores--telling them that this has been done by at least one major chain.

"Kevin J, I like your idea, but I thought that in order to have any kind of realistic impact it would be necessary to have a notable number of shares, like 1% or something, not just a handful."

Not sure what you need to pass a resolution in the average shareholder meeting, but even just showing up would be an improvement. Add some competent public relations work to get news coverage, and you'd magnify your cause and attract more allies pretty quickly.

Mike, I regard this as a moral critique more than an economic one, per se. What especially strikes me is that I doubt this made any real money for them. It was just "something to try." What annoys me is that they obviously had a "what the heck" attitude about it.

I think it is a moral critique as well. My point, which I guess I didn't make clear, is that corporate America has increasingly abandoned almost all taste and morality in the pursuit of profit. Not that big government or big labor are any better. There's something about large institutions that fosters corruption like this.

I know that there are evil things that are profitable. I'm not going to kid myself on that one. I assume that Cosmopolitan's sex tips marketing is profitable, for example.

I have to admit that it's not clear to me that the tasteless underwear and briefs are very profitable. Maybe what the companies consider profitable is "try anything once." Hopefully customer complaints can change their minds on that evaluation.

Hopefully customer complaints can change their minds on that evaluation.

Hopefully that's true, but they should be exercising some self-restraint. I think that is part of the economic critique we've gotten from the right here on this site about corporate america.

I have to admit some puzzlement as to why they are trying _this_, particularly, to make a profit. For example, if one is flailing around for new kitsch gift ideas to sell for Christmas, why not try "cute" or "snazzy" rather than "slutty"? It's not like these things were particularly attractive. I understand they may be trying to stock something for people who are desperately looking at the last minute for a gift for an adult on their list, but a decorative scarf or pretty coin purse for the woman (to dream up something off the top of my head) could be just as cheap.

Rite-Aid is a poor candidate for shareholder activism. There was an accounting scandal involving the founder's son a decade ago; RAD was barely back up to square one in the aftermath (jail time for Junior, etc) when it chose to swallow the Brooks/Eckerd chain just as the economy started tanking five years ago. It's got debt up to here and hasn't netted a dime in a long while. It's probably not going to be able to avoid bankruptcy. Which is probably why 'corporate' is willing to do just about anything it can to turn a buck.

More generally, there have been intermittent efforts by smaller think tanks here and there to keep tabs on naughty and nice corporations from a non-left perspective; but that's dwarfed by groups like what, back in my day, was called the Investor Responsibility Research Center. (There are other proxy-statement research efforts like Institutional Shareholder Services, but they're largely limited to standard compensation-scheme issues and terms of merger agreements, rather than questions like 'which leftist anti-capitalist groups do you fund?' or 'why do you Mormons sell porn-on-demand in your hotels?') If you are a reader of proxy statements-- if you own stock, you should not only read the annual reports, but carefully go through the proxy statements as well; but almost nobody does-- you will see that, consistently, the two sets of groups putting leftist proposals on proxy statements are union pension funds- whether the unions are themselves involved with the target corporation or not- and- *sigh* dissenter Catholic orders, mostly old, dying, but annoying religious sisters owning 216 shares or so and advocating an end to nuclear war, fossil fuel consumption, slave labor, and on and on.

Once every two or three years you'll find some token effort by some lone soldier to get a proposal on Berkshire Hathaway's proxy statement; these go nowhere and impress nobody. But since Warren Buffett helped find and fund the lawyers behind Roe, since he's a huge funder of abortion, sterilization, and birth control, and since he's almost the sole support of that 'Catholics' for abortion group, and since his vast fortune will go to a. preventing nuclear war, whoopie; and b. killing babies- maybe it's worth doing. But direct activism is more effective- after Berkshire bought Pampered Chef, Buffett backed down on having Berkshire donate shareholder-directed funds to 'charities' of their choice- the primary way he used to fund his abortion groups. Berkshire Hathaway owns not only Pampered Chef, but Geico, Dairy Queen, Kirby vacuum cleaners, Born shoes, Fruit of the Loom, Justin boots, and any number of other brand names. Formal, explicitly declared boycotts that involve the directly correlated loss of sufficient revenue- that's the sort of thing that corporations respond to. So Buffett still funds abortion with his Berkshire billions, but not in such a directly from-the-company way.

I think it's important and useful for conservatives and Christians to support companies that are being attacked because their leadership is explicitly Christian or conservative. But very few public companies- Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby are family-owned, for instance- are meaningfully conservative or Christian.

(And note the contrary- there are leftists who still refuse to order Domino's pizza, even though Monaghan sold out to a hedge fund years ago, because its founder openly funded pro-life activism. There are even leftists who refuse to patronize Whole Foods because its founder is a socially liberal but anti-union libertarian. How many conservatives know whether MacDonald's or Starbucks or IBM or Amazon or the cell-phone duopoly supports or funds things like 'gay marriage'?)

Sorry for the long post. I would love to see some group like the Capital Research Center add corporate funding/proxy issues to its offerings. We need coordination, consistency, and good targets. (Starbucks, with its leftist leadership and proggy-vibe customer base, is probably a lousy target for getting its politics reversed or weakened. Rite Aid is probably a lousy target because it's so marginal that the people to talk to are the holders of its debt rather than the current staff at 'corporate'.)

That's all excellent info., David. I remember the Pampered Chef brouhaha quite well.

Do you have any suggestions of your own regarding the best way to get grocery stores to either stop selling Cosmopolitan, cover it up, or put it behind the counter?

My local grocery store is part of a family-owned Michigan chain. I'm hoping their "corporate" may be somewhat responsive, but we shall see.

I think it's important and useful for conservatives and Christians to support companies that are being attacked because their leadership is explicitly Christian or conservative. But very few public companies- Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby are family-owned, for instance- are meaningfully conservative or Christian.

And I've lost a decent amount of respect for Chick-fil-A since it backed down and stopped supporting anti-same sex marriage charities.

I read the story about that, MarcAnthony, and my conclusion was that in a meeting with the pro-gay lobby some "diplomat" from Chik-Fil-A said some vague and soothing things but didn't actually make the commitment that the activists claimed that he made. Subsequently, if I recall correctly, Chik-Fil-A publicly denied that it had committed to not supporting pro-marriage entities.

Admittedly, this has a look of an attempt to have their cake and eat it too, as far as public relations are concerned. And that doesn't arouse my admiration, to put it mildly. But I do think their backing down was somewhat exaggerated by the homosexualist activists.

What is needed is the so-called Direct Action. A few activists prepared to destroy the offending property.
Until the conservatives are willing to contemplate Direct Action, they show that they can take it. And they ensure that they will get more in the future.

Nope, Gian. And please, stop advocating violence and destruction of property on this blog. Not going to fly and not going to be tolerated.

I'd like to also thank David Brandt for his contribution.

It's possible that shareholder activism is unproductive theater. It's also possible that conservative adoption of such tactics would be like a "cargo cult," emulating external rituals without the necessary backing from government officials, the media and the legal community who can follow through on the activism.

I know of one new conservative organization that tries to raise awareness about corporate political and cultural activism so people can change their spending habits, see http://www.2ndvote.org

Somehow Warren Buffett's pro-abortion activism escaped my notice. I am chagrined to say that I only just learned he owns the Washington Post, which helps explain the miserable coverage of the March for Life.

Lydia, grocery stores have been a little more resistant to nationwide corporate merger mania, and many retain strong statewide or regional positions. Here in Texas, family-owned HEB long ago fought off Food Lion's encroachment from its mid-South stronghold, and today HEB remains penny-for-penny competitive with Wal-Mart's Supercenters. The family appears to be extremely interested in customer service, and the San Antonio-based company's stores compete fiercely and successfully with both WMT at the low end and Austin-based Whole Foods at the high end.

There are others- Publix dominates the state of Florida, Ukrops flourishes in the Richmond Va area. These are family-owned or closely-held companies, and they're non-unionized to boot. Since they're not publicly traded (Publix has some publicly held shares due to a generous ESOP that have gradually spread beyond employees, but it's not 'public' in the sense that Wal-Mart or Safeway is) they don't have shareholders or (quite so many) government agencies as constituencies, and fewer venues for unions to browbeat them. So their primary constituency remains their customers.

So- yes, study the company, its family, the affiliated company or family foundation, any political giving; and then write a letter to the chairman on how his store is a part of your family's life, how you feel about your daughters not seeing sexy sexysexy! all over the place in the checkout stands, make a 'moderate' request, maybe not stop selling this porn-lite trash! but 'please consider a scantily-clad-girl-magazine-free checkout aisle, just as you've long had family-friendly candy-free checkout lines'. Something like that would probably work unless the company chairman is some sort of fast-living type.

Kevin: Berkshire is WPO's largest non-family shareholder, at something like 18%, but doesn't own the Post the way it does the Buffalo News, the Omaha World Herald, or any number of other, smaller newspapers. Perhaps more telling is Buffett's long affiliation with The Washington Monthly, though I don't know what his current relationship to TWM is. But yes, Democrat Buffett and his Republican partner Charlie Munger were 'the money' behind advancing Roe to the Supreme Court. Under the corn-pone folksy down-home persona he's successfully marketed for decades, Buffett's been a hard-core leftist a lot longer than he's been a billionaire.

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