SWISS is dropping chocolatier Läderach from its onboard premium cabin offering due to controversial, public positions on divisive social issues by the CEO. I assess the issue differently than the Zeitgeist.
If you’ve ever flown SWISS business class over the last decade, you might remember receiving a choice of pralines after the main meal service. These were supplied by Läderach, a closely-held, family-owned company based in Ennenda, Switzerland.
33-year-old CEO Johannes Läderach and his father Jürg are social conservatives and publicly support conservative causes in their private capacity as citizens. This includes a generally Christian fundamentalist worldview in opposition to:
- homosexual marriage
- premarital sex
The Läderachs helped to recently organize a Swiss edition of the “March for Life” anti-abortion rally, which prompted headlines like, “Chocolate king fights against abortion and homosexuals”.
For Swiss, headlines like that were apparently too much and the airline quietly dropped its partnership with Läderach last autumn. You’ll still find Läderach pralines onboard until this spring, when supplies are expected to be exhausted.
Was SWISS Justified In Terminating Its Contract With Läderach?
Legally and even ethically, if one believes businesses are moral actors, SWISS had every right to terminate its contract with Läderach.
The Läderachs have free speech rights to address divisive social issues. SWISS also has the right to take those publicly-expressed and financed views into account when it decides who to enter into business with. Actions have consequences and even though the Läderachs have made clear that they offer a non-discriminatory workplace and the views expressed were personal opinions of the owners, not a company opinion, it’s hard to separate the two when they share a name.
But our analysis doesn’t end here.
SWISS, by the way, is unwilling to even concede that the conservative values of the Läderachs were the reason behind the contract termination. Instead, a spokesperson would only say that it takes many factors into consideration including “the quality, various economic factors, and the brand fit.”
What does that say about this situation?
I’m reminded of a similar Delta situation, in which it eliminated discounts for the National Rifle Association then offered a contorted justification stating that it wanted to be neutral on the issue. Sorry, but I don’t see verbal neutrality as a viable position.
SWISS took strong action, but doesn’t have the conviction to defend it? Does it expect to somehow pacify its conservative customers through a nod and wink?
Companies and consumers are perfectly justified in taking into account the publicly-expressed positions of the people they are doing business with.
Frankly, though, I have more respect for Läderach than for SWISS in expressing moral clarity. At least Läderach has taken a principled position and stuck to it, knowing that it may lead to consequences. While it is understandable why any company would seek to avoid taking stands on divisive issues that could hurt business, the “read between the lines” approach to severing business while later ostensibly denying it is not a noble way to conduct business.
What is your opinion on this issue?