Paul Holmes

Kraft strengthens its convictions by holding its line in the face of 'pro-family' opposition

Kraft strengthens its convictions by holding its line in the face of 'pro-family' opposition

Just a few weeks after Microsoft's unseemly flipping and flopping on civil rights for gays and lesbians - covered at length in two previous columns - how would Kraft respond when it came under attack by "pro-family" groups for its decision to support the 2006 Gay Games, which will take place in Chicago, home of Kraft's headquarters, next year?

Given recent history, observers could be forgiven if they expected Kraft to mumble its apologies and quickly withdraw. That might have looked like the path of least resistance. Why invite controversy and attacks, especially over an issue that many would consider tangential to the company's business strategy?

But Kraft's EVP and corporate counsel, Marc Firestone, responded to a letter-writing campaign by the American Family Association with a memo to employees that explains the company's position, how it relates to the company's values, and why Kraft will be sticking to its guns.

"While Kraft certainly doesn't go looking for controversy, we have long been dedicated to [supporting] the concept and the reality of diversity," said Firestone. "It's the right thing to do. It's good for our business and our work environment. Diversity makes us a stronger company and connects us with the diversity that exists among the consumers who buy our products.

"At Kraft, we truly respect all kinds of differences. And diversity is not a selective concept. By definition, it's nothing if not inclusive. We respect diversity of ethnicity, gender, experience, background, personal style, and, yes, sexual orientation and gender identity. Recognizing, respecting, and valuing these differences helps us be a more successful business and a workplace where all employees can realize their full potential."

For more than a decade, Kraft has had employee councils that promote awareness of diversity, the newest of which is the Rainbow Council, which provides a forum for support and networking among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender staffers. Each council has an executive sponsor, and Firestone has been the Rainbow Council's sponsor since last year.

Not surprisingly, the decision has drawn criticism. Kraft and its fellow sponsors are "celebrating wrong and destructive behaviors, and showing their disdain for the majority of Americans, who favor traditional morality and marriage," according to a statement on the Illinois Family Institute's website.

But it's encouraging to see a company that understands what it stands for and why its core values are important, even when they provoke an angry reaction from external groups.

"It can be difficult when we are criticized," noted Firestone. "It's easy to say you support a concept or a principle when nobody objects. The real test of commitment is how one reacts when [people] disagree."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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