SEATTLE — Public pressure against companies connected to the gun industry following last month’s school shooting in Florida has hit an unlikely target: REI, the outdoors co-op better known for its public lands advocacy, liberal return policy and annual dividend for customers.
The Seattle-based retailer, which doesn’t sell guns, announced late Thursday that it will at least temporarily stop ordering ski goggles, water bottles, bike helmets and other products from some popular brands — including CamelBak, Giro and Bolle — because their parent company, Vista Outdoor, also makes ammunition and assault-style rifles. The decision came a few hours after REI’s Canadian counterpart, Mountain Equipment Co-op, took a similar step.
“We believe that it is the job of companies that manufacture and sell guns and ammunition to work towards common sense solutions that prevent the type of violence that happened in Florida last month,” REI said. “This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action. As a result, we have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.”
An outpouring of customer concern over continued mass shootings has prompted MetLife, Hertz, Delta Air Lines and other major U.S. corporations to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, at some political risk. Kroger, L.L. Bean, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart have announced that they’ll no longer sell guns to anyone under 21.
Smaller companies have acted too, including bike shops around the country that have announced they’ll no longer carry Vista products.
Vista, based in Farmington, Utah, did not return an email seeking comment. It owns ammunition and firearms manufacturers, including Savage Arms, and it acquired outdoor-equipment companies over the last few years to complement its shooting-sports division, buying CamelBak in 2015 for $412.5 million.
The political battle is the latest to sweep up outdoor retailers like REI, which has long embraced a philosophy of social corporate responsibility but which also has more than 6 million members encompassing a range of political views.
“They’re a progressive company,” said Christine Rosen, a professor at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “This is continent with its philosophy as a corporation. It’s a company that puts people in the wilderness to enjoy the wilderness, not to finish off the wildlife.”
Patagonia and REI both criticized the Trump administration for its decision to drastically shrink two national monuments in Utah. Patagonia has sued to block the decision — “The President Stole Your Land,” it declared on its website in December — and in January, the multimillion-dollar Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show moved from Utah to Colorado to protest Utah officials’ support for the action.
An online campaign to push REI and Mountain Equipment to stop selling Vista brands noted that Vista, through its political action committee, had donated to Republican U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart of Utah, who supported shrinking the national monuments.
Ian Wright, a systems engineer from Crofton, Maryland, has been a member of REI since 2005, when he joined a hiking club. He said he loves CamelBak and some of the other brands at issue, but he was flabbergasted to learn after the Parkland, Florida, shooting last month that it’s owned by a company that also makes assault-style weapons.
“It’s all these things that you wouldn’t think had anything to do with what’s going on with assault rifles, but it ends up being absolutely connected,” said Wright, 42, and the father of a 3-year-old daughter. “If I can’t give up a brand I like and find an alternative, I feel like something is wrong in my priorities.”
While it may seem incongruous for customers to boycott water bottles or bike helmets out of concern about mass shootings, there’s probably little chance it will lead to a slippery slope in which products even farther removed from the gun industry wind up in the crosshairs, said Abhinav Gupta, a professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Activists work hard to bring customer and corporate attention to such supply-chain issues but often find it hard to gain traction.
In this case, he said, REI’s sales had been shown to be just a step removed from the gun industry.
“If you start thinking about the global supply chain, every one of us is involved in something that is against our values: If it’s not Vista, maybe you’re connected to someone who designs logos for one of Vista’s brands,” Gupta said. “That type of information typically doesn’t do anything on its own if nobody pays attention. But if you know your actions are predictably going to do some harm, that’s when people tend to act.”
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