Coca-Cola, Tyson Foods and ADM among companies to suspend political donations

Dive Brief:

  • Coca-Cola, Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods and Archer Daniels Midland are just a few of the large U.S. corporations that have suspended political donations in the wake of last week’s violent protests at the U.S Capitol. The food and agricultural firms are joining technology, hotel, retail and oil companies, among other industries, in making the move, according to a table complied by The Wall Street Journal.
  • In a statement, Tyson said it is “temporarily suspending all political action committee activity while we review and consider the events of the past week.” ADM, which makes political contributions principally through the ADM PAC, said it “joins other leaders in the business community in denouncing the lawless attempted insurrection in the Capitol last Wednesday, which sought to undermine government institutions that form the foundation of America’s democracy.”
  • The response from food, beverage and other U.S. companies denouncing the mob attack in Washington, D.C., marks the second major event in the last year that has prompted corporations to take a stand. Last summer, Coca-Cola, Diageo and PepsiCo were among those companies that spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Dive Insight:

As the U.S. grapples with the violent protest in the nation’s capital last week, companies are quickly going on record to denounce what transpired and suspend contributions from their political action committees while they review how or whether they will give money again in the future. The Wall Street Journal noted most companies are suspending all donations, but at least a dozen have specifically said they won’t contribute to lawmakers who challenged Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden.

In America, consumers are increasingly looking at the values of the companies they purchase goods and services from to make sure they align with their own beliefs. ADM noted its review comes as it checks to ensure its “policies fully reflect ADM’s values as a company.” A survey conducted by Crestline Custom Promotional Products in 2019 showed more than 68% of American consumers want to support companies that share their social, political and environmental values.

For companies known for taking a stand on issues, it marks an opportunity to speak out. In a series of tweets on Jan. 7, Unilever’s Ben & Jerry ice cream called the event a “failed coup—our democracy in peril” before ending its message with “Resign, impeach, 25th Amendment… not one more day.” 

As the divide between political parties has increased in recent years, other companies are finding speaking out can quickly lead to a backlash. In 2020, comments from Goya CEO Robert Unanue praising President Trump sparked calls on social media for a boycott of the Hispanic food maker, including from prominent figures such Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. In 2018, Nathan’s Famous was threatened with a boycott after Executive Chairman Howard Lorber held a fundraiser for President Donald Trump. 

Whether the threats of a boycott actually result in diminished sales isn’t known, the comments bring unwanted attention to a business and can become a distraction for a period of time. A political donation from a company or one of its top executives could have the same impact.

For now, it’s uncertain how much the current climate and the mob attack at the U.S. Capitol will affect political donations going forward. However, there are signs that it could influence how donations are divvied out in the future. In a statement sent to Food Dive, Coca-Cola said “the current events will long be remembered and will factor into our future contribution decisions.” Last week, Coca-Cola called the events in Washington, D.C., “unlawful and violent” and said they were an “offense to the ideals of American democracy.”

Even before last week’s riots, there was evidence the political climate was discouraging companies from donating money. A review by Food Dive of political groups representing the United States’ largest food and beverage companies last fall found they donated far less money during the election cycle to Republicans and Democrats, while also curtailing how much they gave to industry trade organizations that lobby on their behalf.