The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) launched a boycott of the petroleum mega-corporation ExxonMobil through a telephone news conference with reporters June 12 and a photo opportunity version of the event on June 13.
Its theme is "Don't Fuel Discrimination."
Executive director Elizabeth Birch said that ExxonMobil was "the first company to rescind progressive policies for gay and lesbian employees." The Mobil Corporation had adopted both workplace protection and domestic-partner benefits for its gay and lesbian employees, but Exxon had not.
Exxon purchased Mobil in December 1999. It decided to scrap Mobil's human resources policies protecting gay employees and to limit domestic-partner benefits to those already enrolled in the program.
Gay employees of the company and organizations such as HRC tried to work with the merged behemoth to maintain the pro-gay policies. The Equality Project pushed the issue of nondiscrimination through a shareholder resolution at the company's annual meeting, gaining more than 3 percent of the vote in 1999, and 8.3 and 13 percent in succeeding years. Pension funds increasingly have supported the effort.
ExxonMobil "stands out like a sore thumb within their own industry," said Birch, ticking of the oil companies that protect gay employees. More than half of the Fortune 500 companies have adopted gay-inclusive nondiscrimination personnel policies. She called ExxonMobil "a leader in marginalizing its own gay and lesbian employees, and in stonewalling gay and lesbian consumers and shareholders. We are saddened that we have to take these steps."
Birch is asking the community to stop patronizing the company's gas stations and convenience stores; cut up their credit cards and "Speedpasses," mailing half to HRC and half to the company; write the company in protest; send HRC a month's worth of receipts of gas purchased from other companies; and use any company stock they might own to push for change.
Birch admitted that boycotts seldom succeed in exerting significant financial pressure on the target. She said their boycott was called more "to raise the consciousness of a corporation and the American public in general. [ The tactic ] should be rarely and judiciously used."
This is the first boycott that HRC has initiated, though it did support a boycott of United Airlines organized in San Francisco.
The boycott will continue until the company adds a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, it does not include resurrection of domestic-partner benefits. Birch said, "Boycotts have to be crisp and clear… If they come to see the error of their ways [ on policy ] , they are bound to see that the second best business practice is to also include domestic-partner coverage."
HRC "is going to work with our civil rights coalition partners as part of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights," as well as use the Internet to carry out the boycott, she said. Little of this work had been done prior to the news conference. Birch said, "We'd like to get the announcement out and then hopefully garner support."
There are currently no plans for advertising in the mainstream media, such as HRC has done in the past in The New York Times and Washington Post, she said, "But we always pray for angel donors."
Details of the boycott can be found at www.equalityatexxon.org