Trader Joe’s Takes a Stand

Trader Joe’s refuses to stop carrying Russian vodka. Here is its response to the initiative of the LGBTQ community to stop selling or consuming Russian vodka as a means of showing solidarity with the Russian gays and lesbians who are being persecuted viciously on the state level in Russia:

Thank you for your email. We can assure you that at Trader Joe’s, we do not take stands on local, national, or global political or human rights issues. We leave that stuff up to the governments involved, and we rely heavily on the trade regulations established by the United States government. We bring in many products from around the world as allowed by the U.S. government. We are an economic democracy, meaning that if people don’t buy a product, we won’t sell it. Our customers make statements about our products with their dollars every day, and we are dedicated to this approach. The Russian products we carry continue to sell well and will not be discontinued for any other reason! We hope you will continue to enjoy these and the many products we bring in from around the world!” – Trader Joe’s, responding to a customer request.

Of course, it is obvious that “we do not take stands on local, national, or global political or human rights issues” is a fallacy. Not taking a stand against injustice perpetuates the status quo and, in fact, constitutes taking a stand in a pretty major way.

I hope that this email is not real because the annoying chatty tone and the complete lack of sensitivity it demonstrates are very disappointing.

17 thoughts on “Trader Joe’s Takes a Stand

  1. Making statements about products with our dollars may have a point to it, but it should not be called democracy. Democracy, by definition, is “one person one vote,” not “one dollar one vote.”

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    1. I know, it’s ridiculous to call this democracy. One person only has one vote but can have any amount of dollars, including a negative one. This just doesn’t make sense as a democracy.

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  2. I expect that the email is real, because the style is classic “corporate” PR. Would anybody expect a large chain store to stop stocking a profit-making item, in the absence of a serious campaign by consumers resulting in financial losses? The LGBT community bars can affect sales by refusing to carry Russian vodka brands. I am not convinced that individual consumers make much difference in national boycotts of products for “controversial” reasons, because there is often a counter-effect of attracting new customers to replace the old ones.

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  3. There are plenty of countries with much worse abuse of human rights than Russia, whose products are sold in USA, so the fact of continuing to sell Russian products doesn’t scandalize me. Of course, consumers are free to decide whether to buy.

    // Not taking a stand against injustice perpetuates the status quo

    Take it one level / step higher: should USA officially declare it won’t trade with Russia any longer because of Russian gays’ position? If not, I am not condemning capitalists making a profit, as long as public doesn’t care. Especially since I don’t believe USA taking a stand against Russia would help anything, except the Cold War.

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    1. The members of the public are pressuring private vendors to engage in a boycott. This is absolutely normal and has nothing to do with the government. Of course, business owners should have the right to sell what they want. But the public also has the right to exercise pressure on businesses.

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      1. Yes, they can. But the members of the public seem to pressure for boycotts in USA-centric, safe for them ways. Russia and Israel are OK targets, but nobody calls to boycott Saudi Arabia’s oil. Or other Arab countries’ oil with more human rights abuses than ten Russias.

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      2. // I don’t think it’s my place to tell gay people how to conduct their activism. All I can do is be supportive of whatever they decide to do.

        I think that even if I am 100% for gay rights, it doesn’t follow that I must be supportive of *whatever* they decide to do. For example, in his case who owns the company is relevant. If one supports a cause, any cause, one still can disagree about tactics.

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      1. I looked it up. The brand of Stoli that is sold in the U.S is about as Russian as I am. It’s made and bottled in Latvia, and then distributed by PepsiCola.
        Dan Savage should really learn geography when calling for these boycotts (It was his idea for queer bars to stop serving Russian vodka, targeting Stoli in particular)

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  4. Stoil has a distillery and bottling plant in Latvia. But the vodka distilled there is made from Russian ingredients that are processed in Russia and transported to Latvia. Stoli has extensive operations in Russia and they pay taxes to the Russian government. So boycotting Stoli is a completely appropriate action.

    The boycott of Stoli is already having the intended effect. Not only has it raised awareness of the plight of LGBT folks in Russia, but Stoli’s CEO now says the company is looking at more direct ways they can help LGBT folks in Russia and is talking about donating money to the cause of LGBT rights in Russia. Prior to the boycott, Stoli was not speaking out about this issue or considering any of these actions. If only all boycotts were so misguided and ineffective.

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