This week, North American retailers have taken steps to respond to the school shooting in Parkland by entering into the divisive debate over gun control.
Following the Wednesday announcement from Dick’s Sporting Goods that they would immediately halt the sale of assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines as well as raise the minimum age for the purchase of any gun to age 21, Walmart also announced that they would be raising the minimum age for gun purchase to 21 as well as ending the sale of items resembling assault-style rifles, including toys and air guns.
Yesterday, on Thursday March 1, 2018, the outdoor industry also entered the conversation. Canadian retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) announced that it will no longer be carrying products from brands owned by Vista Outdoor. Included are brands like Bollé, Bushnell, CamelBak, Camp Chef, and Jimmy Styks. Vista Outdoor also owns Savage Arms, one of the country’s leading producers of semi-automatic rifles and ammunition like those used in the Parkland shooting on February 14, 2o18.
After conversations with Vista Outdoor, REI has also decided to follow MEC’s example by placing a hold on future orders of Vista Outdoor products until Vista puts forth a clear plan of action. “Companies are showing they can contribute if they are willing to lead,” states REI. “We encourage Vista to do just that.”
In an open letter to members, the CEO of MEC, David Labistour, acknowledged the controversy that this decision has ignited, saying that there has been a lot of discussion from members on both sides of the debate with some saying that these decisions should be left up to the consumer, while others urging MEC to take a leadership role in not supporting a company that manufactures assault-style rifles and ammunition. Ultimately, MEC decided to move forward with their decision as well as to “lean in further on the question of what corporate social responsibility means for MEC, widening our scope beyond environmental footprint and responsible sourcing to consider ownership structures.”
MEC experienced immediate backlash on Facebook with a flood of 1-star reviews and negative feedback. Members accused MEC of political posturing and villainizing gun owners and hobbyists.
In her February 21st piece entitled, “Should Our Morals Determine Our Purchases?“, Outside Magazine’s Ariella Gintzler asked three ethicists to respond to the question of the moral obligations of a company to be transparent about their affiliates to consumers and how consumers should approach purchases alongside their values. As Gintzler reports, the ethicists’ answers were ultimately inconclusive. From a moral perspective, the ethicists seem to agree that consumers should make purchases that align with their values. But from a practical perspective, there’s disagreement as to whether moral boycotts actually hurt a corporation’s bottom line or operations in any truly impactful way.
Ultimately, whatever side of the debate you fall on, it’s important to know where your dollars are going when you make a purchase, both directly and indirectly. Retailers like MEC hope that their contributions to this discussion will foster more transparency in the future.
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