To boycott or not to boycott in South Cobb
Atlanta is no stranger to public outcries and boycotts of the city’s favorite hometown businesses. Chick Fil A and Home Depot are big names in Georgia, with businesses located across South Cobb, who have felt the sting of community uproar regarding something that was said or done that caught the ire of consumers. A new southern favorite has joined the mix. The grocery chain Publix has fallen out of favor due to the actions of someone within its ranks. Julie Jenkins Fancelli, the heiress to Publix Super Markets, was a well-known donor to the Trump campaign; she donated more than $980,000 to Trump’s re-election and the Republican party in 2020. But it is her most recent donation that has brought on criticism across the country with a call to boycott Publix. Fancelli made a $300,000 donation to the January 6th Trump rally that ignited the capitol insurrection. This donation represented the majority of the funding obtained for the $500,000 rally.
In response to the outcries Publix has released a statement claiming that Ms. Fancelli does not represent the Publix brand as she is not an employee or involved in the business decisions of the company. In its statement, Publix failed to condemn the actions of Fancelli, only stating that the company could not comment on those actions. The Twitter account for Publix has been silent on this issue since that release. For those boycotting, it does not matter to them that she is not an employee or is not involved in the daily business operations; what matters is that the money they spent on their groceries went directly to an insurrection and the deaths of a Capitol police officer, as well as others. They are concerned that they have indirectly financed the terror that everyone witnessed that day attacking our nations’ capitol. Because of their failure to act, Publix has begun to lose many lifelong loyal customers who do not want their money going to right-wing extremism. #BoycottPublix has trended on Twitter for weeks, from users announcing their personal story of leaving the brand, and those calling on current Publix customers to stop enabling Fancelli’s funding. There have also been numerous petitions calling for a boycott and for Publix to condemn Fancelli.
However, there is another side to this issue; those who do not support drastic actions such as a boycott. Critics of a boycott argue that boycotting Publix’s stores do more damage to the employees than boycotts occurring at other businesses. Their reasoning is that Publix is “employee-owned”. However, employee-ownership only accounts for twenty-five percent, where the majority of the company’s shareholders are the Jenkin’s family heirs. Critics also point out the common anti-boycotting argument, that the lack of funds from a decrease in consumers will lead to hardships for the employees rather than the higher ups. Food deserts that populate the South Cobb area are also a problem. Publix has a huge presence in Cobb County and operates in various locations within South Cobb, but some community advocates have complained that they do not operate in enough, pointing to the areas that suffer from limited access to supermarkets with fresh foods and vegetables for young children and seniors. For residents in South Cobb, many are discussing among themselves what issue we should be more concerned with, a boycott or access to food for families. Yet, there are some that argue that we should be concerned with both – citing that we can “walk and chew gum at the same time” while holding Publix accountable for the actions of Fancelli.
In the past there have been numerous incidents of owners or other higher ups in major companies who have been ousted from their positions for racist statements and the like. We can go as far back as the late nineties when Marge Schott was ousted as a minority owner of the Cincinnati Reds after multiple incidents of racism and anti-Semitism. Staying in the sports world, in 2014 tapes of former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling making racist comments were publicized. The NBA banned him from the league, fined him $2.5 million, and forced him to sell his interest in the NBA team. Yet both of those examples took place outside of the American south, where companies deeply rooted in the south seem to come off scot-free from the harms of boycotts after a few days of social media outcries. Unfortunately, there are companies we support with our dollars that have long histories of taking those dollars and supporting organizations that many perceive as negative and out of touch with society. Yet, their continued support of these controversial groups has not hurt the company’s bottom line or forced any leadership changes.
So, as consumers in South Cobb, questions remain for us. Should Fancelli’s sponsorship of domestic terrorism hurt Publix? Should we stand for the company doing nothing to change the ownership culture? Do we have the full picture and are we prepared to boycott or not?
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