COMPANY IS PICKING OFF BRANDS
Recreational Equipment Inc. is not in the firearms business. The closest you can get to weaponry in the camping and outdoor company is a can of bear spray or Gerber fixed-blade knife.
The 154-store company, which styles itself as customer-owned, sells recreational equipment and clothing, bikes, kayaks, climbing gear, and snowshoes. Members get a rebate at the end of the year, which is about 10 percent off of everything they purchased. They get coupons and catalogs in the mail.
But now, REI is on a mission go kill what it calls assault rifles. The company, whose Anchorage store is one of the busiest in the nation, jumped on the gun-ban bandwagon.
It’s cutting off inventory that comes from subsidiaries of Vista Outdoors, the owner of a number of companies that include Savage Arms, a Massachusetts firearms maker of rifles that include semi-automatics.
But since REI doesn’t sell firearms, it looked for the next target, and Vista owns companies such as Camelbak, a hydration backpack maker; and Giro and Bell, which make bike helmets. Vista’s stock dropped 8.44 percent on Friday, closing at $15.42.
Vista had been targeted by an online petition at Change.org, and REI was responding, publishing this statement on Thursday:
REI does not sell guns. We believe that it is the job of companies that manufacture and sell guns and ammunition to work towards common sense solutions that prevent the type of violence that happened in Florida last month. In the last few days, we’ve seen such action from companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart and we applaud their leadership.
This week, we have been in active discussions with Vista Outdoor, which has recently acquired several companies that are longtime partners of REI. These include Giro, Bell, Camelbak, Camp Chef and Blackburn. Vista also owns Savage Arms, which manufactures guns including “modern sporting rifles.”
This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action. As a result, we have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.
Companies are showing they can contribute if they are willing to lead. We encourage Vista to do just that.
WHAT REI SUPPORTS
Around the nation, REI has long opposed personal protection in its stores and has signs posted prohibiting firearms or weapons (including knives) on its premises.
And while those Bell bike helmets are made in the USA, the vast majority of REI inventory is made in China, with Vietnam as a growing contributor.
REI, with its ban on Vista products, is willing to lead in some areas, such as killing a company that has any association with the NRA, but is not leading in others, such as allowing communist slave labor to produce high- and moderate-end clothing, shoes and equipment to REI elite members.
In 1997, a group of co-op members led an effort to get the recreation behemoth to stop trading with China, due to its human rights violations.
The co-op’s board refused, and said that China would not be affected by a boycott, and such an action would make REI uncompetitive. Besides, the board said it would be better for geopolitical relationships to keep China’s commercial sector growing.
China, according to the U.S. State Department, is in the worst tier for human rights. It has made no meaningful change to halt human trafficking, and end forced labor.
[Read the State Department’s annual human trafficking report.]
Apo Leong, a labor activist in Hong Kong said China’s 4 million apparel workers, mainly women, are “economic prisoners” who work up to 90 hours a week, live in rooms with 10 other people, and are fired if they become pregnant. They often do not even get paid in the government-owned factories.
But REI also has a habit of shipping jobs south of the border. In 2000, REI closed its Seattle clothing manufacturing plant and relocated it to Mexico, where the 325 workers were paid $50 a week.
WHAT CAMELBAK SUPPORTS
Camelbak, one of the products REI will no longer carry due to its parent company, is located in Petaluma, Calif., and has an extensive program to work with responsible manufacturers around the globe. It has a supply chain transparency program with a zero tolerance for slave labor, and trains its workers to be on the lookout for child labor, exploitive labor, and human trafficking.
This week, Camelbak was pushed into publishing its own statement about the boycott of its parent company:
As you may know, in the wake of the recent tragic shooting at a Florida school, there have been calls on social media for a boycott of CamelBak products because of its association with Vista Outdoor, a company that also owns separate businesses in the shooting sports industry. A major concern for the boycott centers around the incorrect assumption that the purchase of any of our products may support a cause that does not fit the mission/values of our brand. That is not the case. Our brand falls within the Outdoor Products segment of our company, which operates separately from Vista Outdoor’s Shooting Sports segment. Since 1989, CamelBak has been committed to forever changing the way people hydrate and perform. Our passion and love for the outdoors is unchanged. We are deeply committed to the individuals and communities we serve and we proudly partner with organizations to promote the enjoyment of the outdoors.
We recognize, support and respect the right of every individual to decide for themselves what brands they will purchase based on whatever criteria they believe are important. As we drive to make positive change, it is our hope that you stand by our nearly 30-year reputation as we maintain our promise to obsess on what we make, how we make it, and the way it impacts people’s lives and the environment.
CUSTOMERS HAVE CHOICES
REI has picked its battles. It gives lip service to human rights, doesn’t support American jobs or pay its retail workers enough to live on, and is now punishing a company that owns responsible brands — brands that are either made in America or are made with strict adherence to workers’ health and safety. This is the company that former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell ran before she joined the Obama team and worked to shut down Alaska’s economy.
At this point, REI is looking for a certain kind of customer — the kind that doesn’t support the National Rifle Association and the kind that believes in gun control.
Perhaps REI will get what it wants in Alaska: Alaskan outdoor enthusiasts can pick their battles too.