Ed Horch: Completely Nonymous
What should Barilla do?

Date:2013-09-27 11:11
Subject:What should Barilla do?
Current Mood:annoyed annoyed

We all know about Barilla CEO Guido Barilla's icky homophobic comments, and the half-hearted apology.  It looks as though Barilla's 25% U.S. market share is about to suffer a noticeable drop as a result.  What now?

The biggest problem is that the Barilla family has owned their eponymous company since it was founded, and it has never gone public.  Common forms of shareholder pressure won't work to change the company's attitude.  If the Barilla family doesn't care about the reduced income, even a boycott won't help, and it certainly won't do any favors for the workers at the company's factories, two of which are in the U.S.

Can the U.S.operation go against the home office in Italy?  I know I'd feel a lot better if I saw a Barilla billboard featuring a same-sex couple, along with some public statements about how in the U.S., Barilla does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that they do offer domestic partnership benefits (I do not know if they do or not).  It would have to be very convincing, though.

Consider a roughly parallel case: Suppose Georgia-Pacific wanted to distance itself from the politics of the Koch brothers.  It wouldn't be terribly hard, since Koch Industries didn't create G-P, they just bought it, and they don't personally run it.  Even under new owners, a corporation can retain at least some of its core values--if the acquiring company wasn't planning on selling the acquisition off in the first place, they won't be in a position to fire everybody whose ideology they don't agree with.

I'm not sure it's that easy for Barilla's U.S. subsidiary.  Internally, they're going to have to convince the top executives that here in America, at least, proclaiming and acting upon religious-based prejudices is almost always very bad for business.  Even then, the best you could hope for is that the Barilla family grudgingly allows the provincials to run the business in line with local values.  But it would at least be a start.

I like Barilla's products.  My kids love pasta, and Barilla Plus is one of the few pastas out there that adds protein while still looking and tasting like basic semolina pasta should.  Signore Barilla, please really fix this so I can start buying again.


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