Here in Minneapolis, the Target Corporation has long been something of a sacred cow, given that its corporate headquarters are located here, about three blocks from where I now work. Not only do they employ many hundreds of people here in downtown, but they have also been notably good corporate citizens within the community and across the nation. A sizable amount of philanthropy comes through the Target corporation, both here and nationally. Most significantly for me is the ongoing contribution to America’s schools, which totals many millions of dollars a year. The corporation can be the “target” for some legitimate criticism (we’ll get to that in a minute), but they are overall a fair employer that offers opportunity to senior citizens, college students seeking part-time work, employment for physically disabled workers, etc.
For me and many others, they have also served as something of an “anti-Walmart” offering the same products, but served up in a more pleasant atmosphere and finding success with far fairer labor practices, both domestically and overseas. Yes, you might be able to buy your gargantuan bottle of laundry soap for 15 cents less at Walmart, but shopping Target lets me feel that my savings isn’t coming at the expense of old workers denied health insurance, women denied advancement opportunities, or small children laboring in third world sweatshops. It’s not that clear-cut, of course, and I’m sure deep probing shows that Target has some questionable ethics, too. Having read a couple of biographies of Sam Walton, though, makes me more than willing to pay a little bit more.
Recently, the rose has started to fade a little for the Target Corporation. The disaster with credit card information being hacked was highly embarrassing, of course, though I suspect we will gradually learn that this kind of thing has been happening to many other (though less prominent) retailers, as well. Target’s reaction to this has been, I think, ethical and honest, and I frankly don’t really fault them for this event.
But other small things about Target are starting to bug me. They’ve tightened the qualifications for offering health insurance to part-time employees, for example, though people in the know tell me that they are helping those employees with the costs of insuring under the Affordable Care Act. Recently I realized that my local Target stores no longer even offer you a choice between paper and plastic bags—as a cost saving move they now will only bag your merchandise in cheaper but environmentally questionable plastic. And the increasingly drone-like business culture of the corporate office has become more obvious. In downtown Minneapolis, the young Target employees sometimes resemble Stepford wives in their uniform appearance and behavior as they mill through the streets at lunch time.
|Seriously? Target thinks this is okay?|
But the real kicker for me has come in the corporation’s cowardly response to the gun lobby, as rabid gun enthusiasts poke their fingers in the eyes of the rest of us by carrying their loaded guns into retail Target stores. In a feeble effort to offend no one whatsoever, the response of Target has been to shiver timidly and say that they will always comply with whatever the local ordinances allow. They could, of course, simply say that guns are not allowed on the premises of Target stores, but because this runs the risk of a possible boycott by gun enthusiasts, they look the other way and blame governments for whatever policies are in place.
Guns carried into retail mass merchandise stores seems like something you’d expect to see in other mass merchandise behemoths, and you now get the feeling that Target is not longer proudly serving as the anti-Walmart, but instead has chosen to emulate the corporation from Bentonville, Arkansas. The story is not yet concluded, fortunately. A recent vote at Target Corporate gave a vote of confidence to the current board of directors, and that gives me hope that they’ll yet double-down on their practice of good citizenship. I'll watch closely.
But I have to tell you, the first time I see somebody wearing a Duck Dynasty ball cap and carrying an assault rifle in my local Target store, my business goes to Costco once and for all.