The Ethics Behind the Chick-Fil-A Controversy


In the progressive society that we live in today, it is a challenge to sustain a business with conservative values. It will be interesting to see how Cathy and his management team respond. Will companies with family and biblical values continue to succeed in a progressive society?

Paper 2 analyzing this issue: Julia Tomeo Paper 2

Additional Video’s to watch:

paper reprinted by Jordi:

The Ethics Behind the Chick-Fil-A Controversy

Introduction:

In the progressive society that we live in today, it is a challenge to sustain a business with conservative values. When attempting to accommodate all stakeholders, taking a conservative approach can be very limiting. As conservative companies expand nationally and internationally, they face the challenge of needing to please a wide range of stakeholders with different values. Along these lines, Chick-Fil-A has become a very controversial company in the past years with questionable ethical decisions regarding gay rights.

In 2012, Dan Cathy, President and COO of Chick-Fil-A, expressed his opinion on the issue publically, emphasizing his family values and therefore biblical values. Throughout this essay we will uncover the facts regarding the controversy, and analyze how ethics play a role in Cathy’s actions. More specifically, we will compare two interpretations of utilitarianism, a form of consequentialism that focuses on creating the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people.

Chick-Fil-A History:

In 1946 Truett Cathy, opened a restaurant called “Dwarf Grill” in Hapeville, Georgia. Truett Cathy was the inventor of the original chicken sandwich. In the early 1960’s, Truett founded the first Chick-Fil-A and began opening locations in shopping malls. Since then, it expanded rapidly and now has over 1,850 locations with sales reaching $5 billion in 2013. [1] Chick-Fil-A has expanded into 41 states and Washington D.C. Interestingly, in the 66 years of existence; Chick-Fil-A has been a family owned, private company. The last 46 of those years have had positive sales growth through innovation and new products.

Some innovative concepts that the management team at Chick-Fil-A prides themselves on is their approach to the venues in which they serve their food. They have a variety of different locations including mall restaurants, stand-alone restaurants, drive-thru only, Truett’s original Dwarf House restaurant, a ’50’s themed restaurant, college campuses, and hospitals.[2] It is essential for Chick-Fil-A to continue with these innovative ideas as they grow. In order to maintain their increasing growth rate and sales, they must differentiate themselves to get ahead of their competition.

One way that Chick-Fil-A management differentiates themselves is their strong commitment to community service. They pride themselves on the positive service they provide to their customers, team members, and communities. They state on their website, “We firmly believe in treating every person who comes through our doors with honor, dignity, and respect” (Fact and History). Chick-Fil-A teaches their employees this mentality from day one on the job. They are expected to uphold these standards throughout their career at Chick-Fil-A, and beyond. They encourage positive treatment of all stakeholders, regardless of how long the employee chooses to work for Chick-Fil-A. They created a Chick-Fil-A foundation, which is committed to education and youth development. Chick-Fil-A supports their local community members as franchised restaurant operators are committed to serving their surrounding community.[3]

Another point of differentiation is Chick-Fil-A’s specific values. Dan Cathy prides himself on maintaining family values within the company. His father, Truett Cathy, founded the company 66 years ago based on these same values. Truett Cathy made it onto the Forbes Billionaires list with a net worth of $6.2B in 2013.[4] Although he passed away in September of 2014, his eldest son, Dan Cathy, has high hopes for the future of the company as he carries out his fathers’ legacy. As an Evangelical Christian, Dan Cathy continues to operate his business with these family-oriented, biblical values. He even attributes the success of his company to his own family, and those families that supported him in the process.[5] Cathy quotes, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that…we want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” (Collier).

Cathy’s strong dedication to these values caused conflicting responses to the 2012 gay rights controversy that will be discussed later in the paper. Understanding Cathy’s commitment to these family values will better outline the reasoning behind the controversy. He also states, “we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles” (O’Connor, Forbes). Cathy recognizes that not all of his stakeholders will agree with his choice of leadership style, but he is thankful for his ability to act the way he chooses. He has strong beliefs and reasons for his family-oriented business and takes pride in being able to operate it properly, here in the United States.

Chick-Fil-A is known for their biblical values. One aspect of their company that they claim is part of their recipe for success is their choice to close their business on Sundays. Truett Cathy originally implemented this in 1946 when he opened the business and it has remained the same since. He believed that “all employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so” (Closed on Sundays). It is no secret when a national fast food chain chooses to close for an entire day, stakeholders question their reasoning and ultimately conclude it is for religious reasons, as they are choosing to close on a Sunday rather than any other day of the week. They state their reasoning on their website and include rest and family time in addition to biblical reasons as stated above. This strategic choice on Chick-Fil-A’s part differentiates them as a more family-oriented, religious company. In an interview from 2011, Cathy shares his thoughts that allow stakeholders to better understand his leadership style. He explains his biggest challenge of not becoming complacent as a 66-year-old family business. He recognizes how easy it is to get stuck living in the past and voices his opinion on the matter in the interview.[6] He also speaks of the company’s plan to expand into Manhattan, which will become the launching point for more cities like London and Tokyo. Expanding a biblical-value based company into the east coast, and New York City in particular is a risky move. It will be a challenge for Cathy to make this transition successfully based on the negative reactions he faced to the gay marriage controversy worldwide.

Cathy’s public choice to continue with these values has not been easy for the business. In 2012, Dan Cathy publically made statements opposing same-sex marriage. He stated on The Ken Coleman Show, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’. I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about” (What Dan Cathy Said). As the COO and President of a $5 billion company, this controversy hit the news pretty fast. His very specific interpretation of the biblical definition of marriage is attributed to his religion of Evangelical Christianity. Although he is entitled to his opinion, there were stakeholders on both sides of the controversy who were infuriated about the outcome of the situation. There were those who supported same-sex marriage and felt a loyalty to Chick-Fil-A previous to Cathy’s comments who were then very taken aback. There were also those who supported Cathy’s biblical statements and were angered about the many protestors.

In response to the situation, protestors chose to host a National Same-Sex Kiss Day at their local Chick-Fil-A.[7]

Photo by Erik S. Lesser posted on August 3, 2012 on European Pressphoto Agency

The intention was to protest Cathy’s opposition to same-sex marriage. More than 15,000 people said they would join the protest according to a Facebook post that went viral.[8] On the extreme end of the spectrum, protestors interpreted Cathy’s comments as a human rights issue. However, on the less extreme end of the spectrum, some protestors quoted, “To me it makes no difference. They have really great chicken … and he’s entitled to his opinion”(Reuters). Depending on the location, Chick-Fil-A was bombarded with protestors for the day proving that the public had strong feelings on the issue at hand.

On the other hand, those who supported Cathy’s statements reacted to the protests and negative PR that Chick-Fil-A was receiving with a National Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.[9]

Photo by Freedom is Calling Staff, August 2012

A Facebook event was created that stated the desire to simply appreciate a company run by Christian principles and prove loyalty to the company. It is made clear in the Facebook invite that it was not made by anyone in the company, rather the public made it. The post clearly states, “Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant” (Facebook). This Facebook invite to the National Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day chose to voice their need to support the company and all that it has done.

How to Interpret the Situation Ethically:

When analyzing the ethical situation at hand through the lens of consequentialism, we can shape reasons for both sides of the argument. First, we must understand the definition of consequentialism. The consequential theory states that, whether an act is morally right depends only on its consequences as opposed to its circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act” (Consequentialism). The form of consequentialism that is most relevant to the ethical issue at hand is utilitarianism, which calls for the greatest amount of utility according to John Stuart Mills. It is important to understand that “utilitarianism says that the best answer to an ethical problem is that which provides the greatest good for the greatest number”(Roth 33). In this case, utility is defined as pleasure itself, or the absence of pain.[10] This presents an interesting relationship with the Chick-Fil-A ethical debate. There are two possible sides to the argument. One is that Cathy’s public statement regarding gay marriage is limiting their stakeholders by discriminating against 55% of the population in the United States who supports gay marriage, and therefore they are not concerned with providing the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.[11]

Photo by Justin McCarthy, 2012 on Gallup

As outlined below, one could argue that regardless of Cathy’s choice to publically voice his opinion on gay marriage, he still values every stakeholder who expresses an interest in Chick-Fil-A and therefore, he does create the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.

In 2012 when Cathy made his statements regarding gay marriage publically, the company was in the spotlight. Some who supported gay marriage felt targeted and unwelcome at Chick-Fil-A restaurants. Some were uncomfortable giving business to a company who did not value gay marriage. In 2010 and 2011, previous to the controversy, Chick-Fil-A donated about $2 million and $3.5 million respectively each year to foundations against gay marriage like the National Christian Foundation and the Marriage and Family Foundation.[12] However, post controversy, there were no donations to either of these organizations. This proves that Cathy had made a poor business decision and did not intend to upset so many people. Through the utilitarian lens, at this point in 2012, Cathy’s actions most definitely did not bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people. The alteration of public donations to non-profit organizations that were anti-gay marriage in 2012 represents a willingness to change on Cathy’s part, in hopes of contributing to the greater good.

When analyzing the second position on the ethical issue, it is essential to rely on Dan Cathy’s public comments regarding the controversy. It is up to the reader or listener of any information to judge its authenticity, however, Cathy does make statements acknowledging all of his stakeholders as equals. According to Cathy, “We appreciate everybody, everybody is welcome to come here and we want to make sure we maintain a policy of hospitality. We don’t have an anti-gay policy or attitude toward anyone. We support the family and those who will make the family stronger and keep our nation stronger, too” (Exclusive). In this case, Cathy shows no signs of a discriminatory attitude. From this information, it is assumed that he is creating the most good for the largest amounts of people at Chick-Fil-A. Although he may have a personal opinion on gay marriage, he claims it does not affect how Chick-Fil-A will treat those who are or support gay marriage.

Conclusion:

            When analyzing the Chick-Fil-A controversy through a utilitarian lens, there are two interpretations. I believe that my second argument, when Cathy adjusts his actions regarding gay marriage, was more of a response to the first. The first argument stating that Cathy was not concerned with creating the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people clearly goes against the utilitarian theory.         The fact that Cathy changed his actions after the controversy regarding donations to anti-gay organizations proves his need for change. This change was needed as Cathy realized that there was potential to create even more ‘greatness’ for more stakeholders than he did in 2012 after he publically spoke his opinion on gay marriage. This leads into the second argument where Cathy publically states that Chick-Fil-A welcomes any and all stakeholders regardless of the support of gay marriage.

As society continues to progress and Chick-Fil-A continues to expand, it will be interesting to see how Cathy and his management team responds. Will companies with family and biblical values continue to succeed in a progressive society?

Word Count: 2,270

Additional Video Sources: (cited below)

Informational video on scandal:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlzQFChlltk

Exclusive interview with COO, Dan Cathy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edLSNF7l7Eo

Terry College of Business Interview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kly02om-nHg


Works Cited:

 

“Billionaires, Truett Cathy.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

“Closed on Sundays – Sunday Philosophy | Chick-fil-A.” Closed on Sundays – Sunday Philosophy | Chick-fil-A. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Collier, Myles. “Chick-fil-A President Says ‘God’s Judgment’ Coming Because of Same-Sex Marriage.” Christian Post. N.p., 18 July 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

“Consequentialism.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Spring 2009 Edition). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 20 May 2003. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

“Exclusive: Chick-Fil-A President Responds to Criticism of Gay Comments.” Interview by Dan Cathy. YouTube. Fox News, 19 July 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edLSNF7l7Eo&gt;.

“Facts and History – Company Highlights | Chick-fil-A.” Chick-Fil-A. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

The Great Books Reading & Discussion Program: Fourth Series, Volume Two. Chicago, IL: Great Foundation, 1985. Print.

“Interview with Dan Cathy, President and COO, Chick-fil-A.” Interview.YouTube. Terry College of Business, 18 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kly02om-nHg#t=37&gt;.

Israel, Josh. “Chick-fil-A’s Foundations Dramatically Reduce Anti-LGBT Giving (Updated).” ThinkProgress RSS. ThinkProgress, 3 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

McCarthy, Justin. “Same-Sex Marriage Support Reaches New High at 55%.” Same-Sex Marriage Support Reaches New High at 55%. Gallup, 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Reuters. “Chick-fil-A Kiss Day: Gay Rights Activists Hold Kiss-Ins At Restaurants Nationwide.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 03 Aug. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Roth, William F. Ethics in the Workplace: A Systems Perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005. Print.

“What Dan Cathy said”. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. July 26, 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2012.

Photo 1: Photo by Billy Hallowell posted August 3, 2012 on The Blaze

Photo 2: Photo by Erik S. Lesser posted on August 3, 2012 on European Pressphoto Agency

Photo 3: Photo by Mark J Miller posted August 1, 2012 on Brand Channel

Photo 4: Photo by Freedom is Calling Staff, August 2012

Photo 5: Photo by Justin McCarthy, 2012 on Gallup

[1] “Facts and History – Company Highlights | Chick-fil-A.” Chick-Fil-A. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[2] “Facts and History – Company Highlights | Chick-fil-A.” Chick-Fil-A. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[3] “Facts and History – Company Highlights | Chick-fil-A.” Chick-Fil-A. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[4] “Billionaires, Truett Cathy.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[5] Collier, Myles. “Chick-fil-A President Says ‘God’s Judgment’ Coming Because of Same-Sex Marriage.” Christian Post. N.p., 18 July 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[6] “Interview with Dan Cathy, President and COO, Chick-fil-A.” Interview.YouTube. Terry College of Business, 18 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[7] Photo by Billy Hallowell posted August 3, 2012 on The Blaze

[8] Reuters. “Chick-fil-A Kiss Day: Gay Rights Activists Hold Kiss-Ins At Restaurants Nationwide.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 03 Aug. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[9] Photo by Mark J Miller posted August 1, 2012 on Brand Channel

[10] The Great Books Reading & Discussion Program: Fourth Series, Volume Two. Chicago, IL: Great Foundation, 1985. Print.

[11] McCarthy, Justin. “Same-Sex Marriage Support Reaches New High at 55%.” Same-Sex Marriage Support Reaches New High at 55%. Gallup, 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[12]Israel, Josh. “Chick-fil-A’s Foundations Dramatically Reduce Anti-LGBT Giving (Updated).” ThinkProgress RSS. ThinkProgress, 3 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Advertisements

3 responses to “The Ethics Behind the Chick-Fil-A Controversy

  1. I m not sure what the initial definition of progressive society means. You mean that it is one where tolerance of different gender roles is inevitably expanding?

    Like

  2. Do we know if sales declined or increased after his comments?

    That would help with the utilitarian analysis. I think one issue to address is how much harm or benefit occurs. While many individuals felt very strongly opposed to Cathy’s comments, that is supporters of marriage equality, can we get a handle on the measurable harm? On the one hand, it is pretty small. On the other, if Cathy’s support was critical to blocking marriage equality changes in particular states, then maybe the harm is greater.

    I am also interested in how he and the company try to stay both respectful to all people and committed to the biblical definition of the family. That takes some stretching.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s