Levi Strauss announced on Tuesday it would be creating a new gun-control group with billionaire Michael Bloomberg and donating millions of dollars to a collection of established gun-control groups.
The clothing company said it would be partnering with Everytown for Gun Safety and Michael Bloomberg to form Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety in a blogpost on their website. It also said it would set up the Safer Tomorrow Fund, which Levi Strauss said would direct more than $1 million over the next four years to "fuel the work of nonprofits and youth activists who are working to end gun violence in America." The company went on to say it would begin doubling the amount it matches for employee donations to gun-control groups aligned with the fund and pushed employees to use their five hours a month in paid volunteer time at the gun-control groups.
Levi Strauss said while they had already requested customers not carry firearms in their store in 2016 and had supported gun-control initiatives in the past, they felt they needed to become more politically involved in the issue.
"We have a gun violence epidemic in America, and companies like ours—that operate in American communities—can no longer watch from the sidelines," a Levi Strauss spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon. "Although LS&Co. has taken some action to support gun-violence prevention over the last two decades, we believe there is a bigger role that business can play in effecting real change. Through our newly established Safer Tomorrow Fund and involvement in the Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety coalition, we hope to catalyze others to join us and be part of stemming gun violence in this country."
The company did not respond to questions about what specific gun-control laws it hopes to enact through its activism.
Levi Strauss announced the first grants from the Safer Tomorrow Fund would be going to three established groups that have advocated for myriad gun-control laws. Everytown for Gun Safety, Live Free, and Giffords will be the first grant recipients under the company's new plan. Those groups have supported expanding background checks to used-gun sales between private individuals, banning so-called assault weapons, and outlawing the possession of gun blueprints.
The company said the grant to Everytown would be used to support "a series of Youth Leadership Summits organized by volunteers from Students Demand Action." It said the grant to Live Free would go toward training "youth impacted by gun violence on successful gun-violence reduction strategies," and the Levi Strauss Foundation would fund "a series of town halls in cities across the U.S. that are disproportionately impacted by gun violence." The grant to Giffords will be used to "support business community engagement and education on the issue of gun-violence prevention."
Chip Bergh, Levi Strauss president and CEO, justified the decision to become more deeply involved with the gun-control groups by saying it may be unpopular but he felt compelled to do it.
"We can't take on every issue," Bergh said in an op-ed. "But as business leaders with power in the public and political arenas, we simply cannot stand by silently when it comes to the issues that threaten the very fabric of the communities where we live and work. While taking a stand can be unpopular with some, doing nothing is no longer an option."
Bergh went on to say he doesn't "suggest we repeal the Second Amendment or to suggest that gun owners aren't responsible," but there are some weapons nobody should be allowed to own and that some people shouldn't be allowed to own any weapons. He did not elaborate on which guns he wants banned or which people should be banned from owning guns. Bergh did express support for "criminal background checks on all gun sales" as a "common-sense" step that "will save lives."
Bergh then compared those who oppose the company's gun-control stance to segregationists and those opposed to other moves the company has made.
"As a company, we have never been afraid to take an unpopular stand to support a greater good," Bergh said. "We integrated our factories in the American South years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. We offered benefits to same-sex partners in the 1990s, long before most companies did. We pulled our financial support for the Boy Scouts of America when it banned gay troop leaders. While each one of these stands may have been controversial at the time, history proved the company right in the long run. And I'm convinced that while some will disagree with our stand to end gun violence, history will prove this position right too."