Corporate brands have waded into fraught political territory during the first two years of the Trump presidency, clashing with the president and his allies on polarizing issues such as gun ownership and immigration. Companies are increasingly taking stances on social and political issues important to their employees, customers and the broader public, even if it riles others. With the standoff over the federal government shutdown, this more-emboldened public posture by companies is again on display.
President Trump faced a backlash from major businesses soon after he took office. More than 100 technology companies, including Apple and Google, opposed the president’s initial travel ban, endorsing a lawsuit that sought to block Trump’s executive order on immigration from certain countries. The tech companies argued that banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States violated immigration laws and the Constitution.
Companies also took action after the Parkland, Fla., school massacre elevated the debate over federal gun-control laws. The chief executive of Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that the store would no longer sell assault weapons, high-capacity magazines or guns to customers younger than 21. Walmart also raised the minimum age for purchasing guns and ammunition. And other companies changed their policies in the midst of the political firestorm, including several airlines that ended discounts and perks to members of the National Rifle Association.
Now, as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history has extended to its 26th day, 800,000 federal workers are left without paychecks, affecting the work of dozens of federal agencies. While the White House and Congress have not made progress in ending the standoff, companies are stepping into the fray through advocacy, charity and Twitter trolling.
Several outdoor-apparel brands, including REI, Columbia Sportswear and the North Face, have used their social media accounts in recent days to support national parks, where services have been disrupted by the shutdown.
“Make America’s parks open again,” Columbia Sportswear chief executive Tim Boyle said in a Twitter post, riffing on Trump’s campaign slogan. Boyle then took aim at the proposed wall that Trump wants built on the U.S.-Mexico border, the signature issue at the heart of the shutdown dispute. “Walls shouldn’t block access to parks, and federal workers shouldn’t be left out in the cold,” Boyle said. “Work together to open our parks.”
During the lapse in government funding, the National Park Service has taken the unprecedented step of diverting entrance-fee revenue to staff operations at its most popular sites, as piling trash and vandalism threaten the country’s iconic public lands. Some critics say that move could be illegal. Photos of trees cut down by visitors at Joshua Tree National Park have sparked outrage as parks have been left understaffed and the administration struggles to manage federal lands.
In response, REI has urged people to volunteer for restoration efforts at national parks once the shutdown ends. And the North Face has called for donations to the National Park Foundation, as Adweek earlier reported.
While some brands are advocating to protect vulnerable land, jabbing at the president in the process, others are offering to help financially struggling federal employees who aren’t being paid.
Food industry megabrand Kraft said it would open a store in Washington on Wednesday to offer free food to federal workers. “We know feeding a family can be stressful. And while we can’t do anything about the whole paycheck thing, we’ll do what we can to see that family dinners remain business as usual,” the company said in a Facebook events page. Kraft will offer its macaroni and cheese, salad dressing, cheese, mayo and barbecue sauce. The company said it won’t charge the workers any money, instead asking them to donate to their favorite charity once their work lives return to normal.
Kraft’s move follows Sweetgreen’s tweet over the weekend to offer federal workers “some small relief” by providing a salad dinner on the house to people who showed their federal government identification.
Other companies are expressing their frustration over the shutdown with Internet-inflected sarcasm.
“Due to a large order placed yesterday, we’re all out of hamberders. just serving hamburgers today,” Burger King said on Twitter, mocking Trump’s now-deleted tweet from Tuesday in which he misspelled “hamburgers.” The president’s tweet highlighted a fast-food feast he hosted at the White House for the Clemson University Tigers on Monday. Because of the shutdown, he said, he paid for the food himself. Trump said he served 300 hamburgers to the national college football champions — including 11 Burger King Whoppers, according to a Washington Post analysis.