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Coronavirus amplifies importance of Amazon ending discrimination against conservative groups

Coronavirus amplifies importance of Amazon ending discrimination against conservative groups
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The far-reaching consequences of the coronavirus health crisis on public companies has been devastating to millions of Americans who rely on their economic performance for retirement income. As the market sustains roller-coaster drops, it’s more important than ever that these companies maintain the trust of their primary constituency: Shareholders.

Yet, American companies are losing that trust as they abandon political neutrality in favor of an agenda that is increasingly hostile to religious and conservative values.

Far-left activists have identified publicly traded companies as vulnerable to pressure campaigns. They employ the threat of reputational harm to coerce corporations into embracing left-wing positions on many pressing issues. 

Among other tactics, activists accomplish their objectives by blacklisting. They distribute misinformation about their ideological opponents and then use that misinformation to pressure corporations to censor, defund and discriminate against them. Unfortunately, some corporations cave.

Amazon appears to be one of them. Amazon relies on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) “hate group” list to determine eligibility for the AmazonSmile charitable giving program. Amazon says the program allows customers to “support your favorite charitable organization every time you shop,” but its outsourcing of eligibility decisions to SPLC can make that difficult if not impossible for conservative customers.

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SPLC’s hate-group list represents a form of left-wing blacklisting. SPLC leads with a list of despicable racists that everyone agrees are “hate groups.” It then adds largely mainstream conservative groups that disagree with its agenda and does not distinguish between the two. Among these conservative organizations is one which I represent, Alliance Defending Freedom. 

Many have described SPLC’s “hate group” list as a politically motivated smear campaign and its image as misleading. As Politico wrote in a 2017 article, critics have charged that SPLC has become “more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.” And the editor-in-chief of Current Affairs called the “hate group” list “a willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC.” 

Yet, Amazon continues to use this same list to exclude some conservative and religious charities from AmazonSmile, one of the largest grantors of charitable support in America. It has given over $150 million to nonprofit organizations, funds that are especially needed now when nonprofits are providing so much essential support and help amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Amazon also enables a stunning conflict of interest by allowing the SPLC to be both a recipient and the gatekeeper of access to the program’s funds. Based on AmazonSmile’s latest available Form 990, SPLC ranked in the top 35 out of more than 1 million participants, while banishing its ideological foes from the program.  

SPLC has deposited more than $160 million of its half-a-billion-dollar endowment in offshore accounts. Given that the SPLC purportedly exists to serve the poor, what possible justification exists for such an enormous endowment? They won’t say. Why does SPLC keep this mountain of cash away from U.S. government oversight? The SPLC refuses to explain.

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While Amazon says it values “diversity” and “inclusion,” it appears indifferent to SPLC’s internal scandals involving allegations of racial and sexual harassment — the very things for which it claims to be the moral arbiter for others. In spring 2019, SPLC ousted its co-founder and long-time president after CNN and other mainstream outlets reported that SPLC “suffers from a systemic culture of racism and sexism.” At the time, SPLC announced the hiring of former Barack and Michele Obama aide Tina Tchen, promising that she would thoroughly investigate its workplace culture. 

Since then, SPLC has been silent about Tchen’s investigation. Meanwhile, SPLC simply picked up where it left off, issuing its “hate group” list earlier this year and continuing to smear its ideological opponents and demand that corporations economically discriminate against them.  

Amazon’s dependence on SPLC threatens Americans’ retirement nest eggs. Research shows that viewpoint discrimination in business alienates customers, harms performance and undermines shareholder value. This is without justification any time. But given Amazon’s key role in delivering essential products amid COVID-19, its refusal to end this alliance with SPLC is disturbing.

Shareholders have an opportunity today to confront Amazon at its shareholder meeting by voting in favor of a new shareholder resolution that corrects viewpoint discrimination against conservatives. It is Item 12 on Amazon’s 2020 Proxy Statement.  

With increasing calls for unity and bipartisanship to defeat COVID-19, there’s never been a better time to call on corporations to root out discriminatory practices that harm business value and alienate customers. Amazon’s partnership with the SPLC is a perfect example. It divides us when we should be united. 

Times have changed, business practices are changing, and people no longer have patience for companies that pick political sides. Now, more than ever, it is important for Amazon to prioritize unity and viewpoint tolerance over division and viewpoint discrimination.

Jeremy Tedesco is vice president of U.S. advocacy for Alliance Defending Freedom, an American conservative Christian nonprofit organization with the stated goal of advocating, training and funding on the issues of religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Amazon’s partnership with SPLC resulted in ADF’s removal from the AmazonSmile program.