In those early days, HRC talked about fairness to all employees. A high score showed companies were interested in recruiting talent regardless of sexual preference. Each year more companies filled out the survey. In 2006, HRC rated 446 companies, and 136 earned a 100. Companies issued press releases to announce their perfect scores.
Then HRC raised the bar, adding transgender-inclusive health coverage and more comprehensive domestic partnership benefits to the criteria. Corporations received points for LGBT marketing and ad campaigns and official corporate support for LGBT rights. Over time, HRC moved from advocating LGBT equality to demanding that corporations discriminate against suppliers, charities, and local and state governments that don’t bow to their demands.
HRC continues to raise the bar. To earn a 100 in 2017, companies have to show both internal and public support for LGBT demands. They have to pledge to extend their pro-LGBT policies to global operations, although how that works in Muslim countries is not clear. For decades most large corporations, unsurprisingly, have not made grants to churches, but to satisfy HRC demands they must prohibit philanthropic giving to relief or anti-poverty groups that maintain Biblical standards.
HRC now demands that corporations consider LGBT persons part of a “Protected Class.” Companies that follow HRC’s line include household names such as McDonald’s, State Farm, DuPont, UPS, Allstate, Caterpillar, FedEx, and Apple—but there are a few exceptions. Home Depot listed Operation Blessing and Convoy of Hope among the groups receiving its $1 million post-Harvey donation. Walmart listed Convoy of Hope as among nonprofits to which it would send cash and products. Pharmaceutical company McKesson donated to World Vision.
I contacted HRC to ask what philanthropic policies it expects corporations to follow after natural disasters. It did not respond by press time.
Based on the written record, it’s clear that corporations desiring a top score have to go way beyond fairness in employment. They have to discriminate against Christian organizations and label those groups as discriminatory. They have to take public positions against legislation HRC sees as anti-LGBT. They have to pressure suppliers and philanthropies to adopt HRC’s view, and cut off those that decline.
The 515 corporations that earned a perfect HRC score in 2017 have incorporated strict bans on donations to groups HRC calls “discriminatory.” When HRC applies this requirement to relief organizations, it’s important to note that this isn’t discrimination in helping: None of the NVOAD groups, religious or secular, turn away anyone in need. The “discrimination” lies in insisting, for example, that a Christian should head a Christian organization.
Knock out evangelical groups, though, and the result is a huge gap. Many consumers expect big companies to step up in times of need, and many corporate executives want to do so out of a desire to help, a desire to gain public relations points, or both. That’s why the American Red Cross enjoys heavy funding, despite its poor record in disaster after disaster. In C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales, children learn that the great lion Aslan, a stand-in for Jesus, is not safe, but he’s good. The Red Cross now is not good, but from a corporate perspective it’s safe.
THERE’S A SAD HISTORY HERE. In the 19th century the cross was a significant part of the Red Cross name. In the 20th century the organization secularized, but a corporate contribution to it would still help both people in need and a company’s reputation. In the 21st century many see the Red Cross as a bloated bureaucracy, but those not in the know think better of a company that gives, even if ineffectively.
Those in the know say the American Red Cross is not clear on what it does with annual revenues in excess of $2.6 billion. In 2015 the federal Government Accountability Office reported, “No regular, independent evaluations are conducted of the impact or effectiveness of the Red Cross’s disaster services.” Informal evaluations have been scathing.
‘No regular, independent evaluations are conducted of the impact or effectiveness of the Red Cross’s disaster services.’ —From the 2015 federal Government Accountability Office report
Nevertheless, the list of corporations that played it safe with HRC after Harvey by writing a check to the Red Cross is long. Here are just five of the M’s listed by CNN Money: Mastercard, Mazda, McDonald’s, MetLife, and MillerCoors. We’re not talking about small change: PepsiCo, Phillips 66, Shell, and Valero each threw $1 million into Red Cross coffers.
In defense of those companies, the American Red Cross does do some useful things, despite what critics say. On Sept. 21 a spokeswoman responded to WORLD inquiries by saying the Red Cross had deployed more than 2,900 disaster workers in Texas and Louisiana. That number included volunteers from faith-based groups like Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Seventh-day Adventists. When the Red Cross asked Southern Baptists to cook food for people staying in Red Cross shelters, it paid for that food. The Red Cross sometimes served as a pass-through to smaller front-line organizations, and took a 9 percent cut for overhead.
Many companies try to combine helping outsiders and improving the morale of insiders by matching personal contributions (and sometimes volunteer hours) of employees, but even here American Express, Campbell Soup, and other companies insisted on Red Cross or nothing, according to CNN Money. QVC and TD Ameritrade reportedly went even further, saying they would match some customer or client donations—but only if those donations were to the Red Cross.
It’s important to note that Christian disaster relief organizations are not out begging for corporate funding. But since corporations advertise matching grant programs as part of corporate good citizenship, it’s odd they would tell one group of employees, “Groups reflecting your beliefs don’t qualify.”
WORLD contacted UPS, Microsoft, Pfizer, Delta, DuPont, State Farm, Caterpillar, and FedEx for clarification on what groups they exclude from matching grant programs. None of them responded by press time.
“Cast your bread upon the waters,” Chapter 11 of Ecclesiastes advises, “for you will find it after many days.” Good advice for individuals, but corporations that cast bread only to HRC-approved activities often see negative results. So, a question: Since leading companies have not become successful by wasting money within their business activities, aren’t executives a little abashed when they do so regarding disaster relief and other nonprofit activities?
—with reporting by Bonnie Pritchett