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Tractor Supply announces cuts to DEI roles under pressure, sparking protests

One of the country’s largest agricultural retailers announced Thursday it would cut diversity jobs and roll back its carbon emissions targets, responding to pressure from the right that sparked an outcry from other customers and advocacy groups.

Tractor Supply Company made the changes after receiving criticism from customers about some of its programs, the Tennessee-based company said in a statement. It also announced it would stop reporting data to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, and would stop sponsoring Pride festivals and voting initiatives.

“We have heard from customers that we have disappointed them,” the company said. “We have taken this feedback to heart.”

The move was greeted with cheers by conservative activists – and by Other, including a New York animal shelter, LGBTQ+ organizations and an association that wants to support black farmers.

Tractor Supply did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post on Saturday.

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The company is the latest to find itself at a crossroads between customers with different political beliefs. Last year, Bud Light’s sales fell after it ran an ad featuring a transgender social media influencer, and Target lost sales after it introduced a Pride Month collection. And while a conservative As a legal campaign dismantles corporate and government diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, some companies are revamping their private sector DEI policies.

Tractor Supply, which sells pet food, tractor parts and power tools in more than 2,230 stores nationwide, won awards for its inclusivity last year. Bloomberg praised the company for promoting gender equality, while Newsweek named it one of the best U.S. companies for diversity.

“Our deep-rooted mission and values ​​are the foundation of who we are as an organization,” said Melissa Kersey, executive vice president of Tractor Supply, in a statement in February 2023. “They dictate that Tractor Supply prioritizes a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment that values ​​diversity of thought and perspectives.”

But this month, the company came under fire when conservative podcast host Robby Starbuck denounced Tractor Supply’s diversity and climate policies. An employee recently sent him a message complaining about the company’s support of LGBTQ+ groups, Starbuck told the Washington Post.

Starbuck visited Tractor Supply weekly to buy food for his farm in Franklin, Tennessee, he said, but he did not agree with the company providing money for inclusion programs.

“Start buying as much as you can from somewhere else until Tractor Supply makes REAL changes,” he wrote on X on June 6.

Other customers then announced they would join the boycott, and the company’s share price fell five percent last month, according to the Financial Times.

Starbuck and other conservative X users, including TikTok’s Libs, publicly celebrated after Tractor Supply announced it would roll back several of its policies.

“It’s about returning to an environment where companies are just companies again and not acting as proxies for societal or political values,” Starbuck told the Post.

Others were not so lucky.

John Boyd Jr., founder of the National Black Farmers Association, an advocacy group for African-American farmers, told the Post that Tractor Supply “sends the wrong message to America.” In four decades as a farmer, Boyd said, he has seen White farmers which accounted for about 95 percent of farmers in 2017 spit in faces of black farmers and insult them with the N-word.

“We are simply taking steps backwards,” Boyd said of Tractor Supply’s decision.

SquirrelWood Equine Sanctuary, an animal shelter in Montgomery, New York, said Tractor Supply would no longer receive the more than $65,000 it normally spends there annually.

“You have lost our business and any shred of respect we may have once had,” the sanctuary wrote on X.

Eric Bloem, vice president of programs and corporate advocacy for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement to the Washington Post that Tractor Supply is “turning its back on its own neighbors.” Tennessee Democratic Senator Charlane Oliver wrote on X that the company is choosing “hate and bigotry.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said Tractor Supply had “harmed its LGBTQ customers and employees.”

“Tractor Supply’s embarrassing capitulation to the petty whims of anti-LGBTQ extremists is driving the company mad and cutting off contact with the vast majority of Americans who support their LGBTQ friends, family and neighbors,” Ellis said in a statement to The Washington Post.

DEI programs became popular in many organizations during the racial justice movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020. But backlash soon followed from critics who claimed the measures would create new inequalities.

Frank Dobbin, a sociology professor at Harvard University who researches corporate diversity programs, said it’s rare for companies to publicly announce that they’re rolling back their diversity programs. Depending on how the move affects Tractor Supply’s business, Dobbin said the company could be a “test case” that will shed light on whether other organizations announce similar cuts.

“Will this impact many other companies?” Dobbin asked. “Or will this be the lesson other companies learn from this, that they don’t want to change course on promoting equality?”

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