Inappropriate comments lead to boycott
"Our family is a traditional family. You cannot please everyone. I never want advertisements with a gay couple in them. That is not because I don’t respect gay people: they have the right to do what they want, as long as they do not bother other people. But I do not agree with them and we wish to talk to traditional families. That makes women crucial.” With these statements, Guido Barilla, the 55-year-old chairman for Barilla, lit the fuse of the argument.
The fuse quickly resulted in a worldwide blaze, as several interest groups asked to boycott Barilla and the other brands belonging to the food corporation. Social media helped spread the information, especially in the United States, the second largest market for the Italian food company.
First apologies, now actual steps
It became so tumultuous that the founder’s great-grandson quickly apologized: “I [apologize] if my words generated misunderstandings or controversy or if they hurt some people’s feelings. In the interview I just wanted to underline the centrality of the woman’s role in the family.”
Barilla has announced it is commited to support more diversity, not only in its advertising, but also in its company structure and personnel. Not only traditional families will be featured in Barilla’s future advertisements, but they will also feature the handicapped former F1 pilot and Paralympic hand biker Alex Zanardi and American gay rights activist David Mixner.
The company will be creating a Diversity and Inclusion Board and adding a ‘global diversity officer’ to put and keep the company on the right track. To prove it is serious, Barilla has demanded to be screened based on the principles of the Corporate Equality Index, a Human Rights Campaign initiative. This initiative reports on the diversity found in the workplace.
Talks with gay community
These steps were taken after Guido Barilla had spent the past few weeks talking to gay people and interest groups in Italy and the United States. “These meetings have helped us open our eyes to what is happening in the world outside of Parma and Italy”, says spokesperson Luca Virginio.
Certain sources indicate that the boycott led to Barilla losing 10 % of its turnover, a number the company neither confirms nor denies. It is undeniable that the pasta maker has been in a downward spiral due to the Italian recession, with its last year’s net profit dropping more than 21 % to 60 million euro. It is mainly depending on the United States to recover, meaning this turmoil was not really helping the company reach that goal.
(Translated by Gary Peeters)