CEOs from hundreds of companies including Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s had planned to meet in North Carolina this October to talk about using business for social good. Now, they’re not coming.
In response to a controversial new state law aimed at gay and transgender people, a group of firms designated as “Certified B” ethical corporations say they are canceling an annual CEO retreat, a street fair, and related meetings.
Jay Coen Gilbert, who represents the non-profit group that certifies so-called “B Corp” companies (which also include online marketplace Etsy (ETSY) and web retailer Seventh Generation) said the law, which restricts bathroom use and permits some forms of discrimination against gay people, goes against the group’s commitment to building a more inclusive economy.
According to an internal estimate, the group’s week-long event planned for Durham would have brought in $1 million for North Carolina. That figure is based on 1,340 hotel room nights, and contracts with a variety of vendors.
The B-Corp backlash is just the latest economic jolt to hit North Carolina since the law went into effect last month. PayPal (PYPL), for instance, cancelled a planned expansion in the state that involved 400 jobs because of the law, while Deutsch Bank is freezing a plan to create 250 technology positions in Charlotte. Meanwhile, companies like Apple and Bank of America have publicly criticized the measure, while rocker Bruce Springsteen canceled concerts in the state last weekend.
A similar controversy is also erupting in Mississippi, which also recently passed a law singling out the LGBT community.
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In response to the outcry, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) announced an executive order this week that would prevent state employees from being fired because they are gay or transgendered. The order, however, leaves untouched other controversial elements of the law including a requirement that transgender people must use the restroom that corresponds with what is listed on their birth certificate.
The governor’s attempt to back-pedal failed to impress the B-Corp companies, however, which said on Wednesday they will only re-instate the event if North Carolina repeals the law by June 30.
For the B-Corp companies, the North Carolina showdown could test the influence of their business model, which aspires to attract customers by making social change a core part or their corporate mission. Currently, more than 1,700 companies have signed up to be certified as a B-Corp, though few of them are household names.