SAN FRANCISCO'S LEVI STRAUSS' AIDS PROGRAM TRUE COMPASSION OR ALL OUT SUPPORT FOR HOMOSEXUALS?
St. Antoninus Institute
In 199O, three business school professors examined corporate programs dealing with the employees infected with the AIDS virus. Professors John P. Kohl, Alan N. Miller and Lawrence Barton, all from the Department of Management of the University of Nevada wrote an article which was published in the Long Range Planning issue of December 199O. What follows is based on their findings.

The concern of the professors seems on first glance to be very practical. They are simply gathering information on an issue of great importance to personnel managers in any corporation. On the other hand, it is most interesting to evaluate the assumptions they are making about AIDS and who they get these assumptions from.

The company they selected for analysis is LEVI STRAUSS which is headquartered in San Francisco. The firm is the largest clothing manufacturer in the world with 32,OOO employees as of January 199O.

The authors conclude that the AIDS policy adopted by this company has been recognized as one of the best conceived and most compassionate in corporate America.

Historical Background

The first initiative came from rank and file employees. At the urging of a group of "gay'' workers who were grieving the loss of "friends'' who had died from AIDS, an AIDS booth was proposed for the lobby of Levi's corporate headquarters.

Levi's Chairman and CEO Robert D. Haas completely supported the gay workers. He said that he would personally join them at the booth on the first day of operation to express top management "sensitivity'' to the issue.

Subsequent to the launching of the booth, an "AIDS Education Committee'' was appointed by Haas. This committee, financed with corporate funds, initiated a multi-faceted informational campaign within the company. It developed a number of programs to "educate employees'' at all levels of the of the organization about the "health crisis''. No mention was made about a moral crisis or a breakdown of social values.

The first program was a video tape entitled "An Epidemic of Fear: AIDS in the Workplace,'' which featured interviews with Levi's employees who related both their fears and their compassion of their AIDS stricken co-workers.

The second program was an information leaflet, written and produced by the "San Francisco AIDS Foundation'' which is they describe as a highly regarded non-profit organization. We have no direct evidence that it is "gay'' run, but we have few doubts that it is. This leaflet was partly underwritten by Levi Strauss.

The third program is a "Policy Manual". This manual contains formal policies and procedures to deal with Levi employees who have AIDS or who are HIV positive. It is intended for the corporations' managers in the medical and human resources departments.

In 1985, CEO Haas formed an employee task force to make recommendations on how to deal with workers who were HIV positive or had full-blown AIDS. This group was asked to coordinate outreach programs with the San Francisco "gay'' community and to recommend how the Levi's corporate resources could help victims of AIDS and AIDS centers.

The management professors article demonstrates that the Bay Area medical officials, the national Center for Disease Control, community action groups (e.g. the different homosexual groups such as ACT-UP who think nothing of desecrating the liturgy and the sacred Host at New York's Saint Patrick Cathedral) and even the corporation's own employees helped form the corporation's AIDS policies.

The company's AIDS educational training program included the corporation's philosophy toward the disease and also a thorough discussion of AIDS itself. The program goal was to provide company managers with accurate information which could be passed on to their subordinates—methods of transmission, incubation period, symptoms, prevention and control, etc.

With the most powerful and organized San Francisco gay community at their door steps, watching the development of these programs like hawks, we can expect that issues on the methods of transmission, prevention and control will be put in terms and in ways that would best satisfy these homosexuals for whom a great priority is the "respect'' of their "lifestyle''. Only the matters of incubation periods and symptoms, as long as they do not have any political elements would be left untouched by the "social reformers'' of the "gay'' community.

The professors do not surprise us when they claim that: "... with such a comprehensive but sophisticated program in place, Levi has become a major, central resource for the entire San Francisco population. Non-profit agencies, medical clinics, chambers of commerce, and community action groups have all turned to Levi for direction on both AIDS education and training. Since 1982, the firm has provided in excess of $1 million in grants to such organizations to fund efforts to increase public awareness about the disease''.

Thus Levi Strauss had a extremely important role in shaping the way AIDS is being viewed and addressed by personalities in the social and medical field the country and the world over; and its influence has not been limited to these fields. Levi Strauss had also an incredible effect at the political level also.

Both in 1986 and 1988, the firm opposed a California ballot that "would have infringed on the rights of people with AIDS and those in high risk groups''. In other words, the company went all out, putting all its goodwill forward to defend the rights of homosexuals to be homosexuals. In 1986, the firm, along with several other major corporations also underwrote a national conference on AIDS and corporate responsibility. Over 2OO senior policy makers from 1OO major US corporations participated in this conference.

We are in the process of investigating the names of corporations who choose to support such an extreme view towards homosexual "rights". Most probably the same corporations must already have answered our plea to be involved in the pro-life movement with the answer "we do not want to take a position on that controversial issue''. These 1OO corporations do not seem to hesitate before taking a position on this abominable "life-style'' issue.

Policies

Here is Levi Strauss's personnel policy concerning AIDS.

1—Employees with AIDS are to be treated the same way as any other individuals with a life threatening illness and may continue to work as long as physically able to do so.

2—The firm's comprehensive medical plan includes health and hospice care for AIDS patients.

Our Comments: It is good to treat sick individuals charitably and humanely. However, there does not seem to be any provision that explains that AIDS is an epidemic which can be transmitted through body fluids and, in particular, by homosexual behavior. Nowhere do we see protection against infected needles (the largest garment manufacturer in the world must have sewing machines with needles, scissors etc), any special procedures for cleaning and use of toilets, or any policy against "fraternization on the corporate premises'' by homosexuals.

3—A "Case Management'' approach has been designed for individual employees whose needs may incrementally change as the diseases progresses in seriousness. Implementation of this approach requires that work assignments be tailored by supervisors who are aware of the individual's medical condition.

Our Comments: Again there is a definite show of compassion. But where does it end? Are workers with terminal cancer given such a tailored service? Or are they kept as long as possible and then dismissed when they can no longer fulfil their tasks? Are pregnant women followed by Case Workers?

4—The firm does not test prospective employees for the HIV virus and does not allow any AIDS screening questions on employment applications or in interviews.

Our Comments: It is one thing to have a comprehensive Health Insurance system which covers all individuals whatever their health status (it is typical of unethical conduct in the insurance business to issue policies only to the most healthy customers and abandon them as soon as it appears that there will begin to make claims because of deterioritating health), it is an entirely other question to have a corporation substituting itself for a national health system. People with AIDS will flock to work with Levi Strauss, like homeless flock to cities and counties with very liberal policies to accommodate their needs. Levi Strauss will become the employer of choice for people with AIDS and other individuals belonging to high risk groups (e.g. homosexuals, phlilanderers and drug users).

5—Managers are held `accountable for creating a work environment that is supportive of an employee with AIDS'. The firm reports that, to date, it has not found it necessary to sanction any manager for non-compliance with this mandate.

Our Comments: the storm trooper and "community activists'' have made sure that their philosophy prevails. Those opposed are either gone (the article does not say anything about managers resigning) or are scared into submission.

The authors further looked at AIDS programs at different companies and came up with a list of the most important points in these programs:

—The need for consistency. Employers should be as consistent as possible in providing for the needs of AIDS patients as with those provided for any other catastrophic illness.

Comments: This seems to say: grant AIDS sufferers as much legal, procedural and insurance protection as you would for other illnesses but do not make allowance for the fact that this is a very special epidemic. What kind of consistency is this?

—AIDS Education as Management Tool: the idea here is that apparently the AIDS crisis has turned some corporations, such as Levi Strauss into "caring sources of information'' for the benefit of their employees.

Comments: Apparently this gives the opportunity for a company to take on a "scientific'' and an "academic'' aura as it answers very technical questions but avoid answering other concerns such as "whether the company intends to release the results of blood tests''. This is particularly important in "hospitals and food service industry, but is also true in any manufacturing or para-military environment where workers share close quarters''. It also helps the corporation to build up a scientific and academic image which it will be in the position to use in the process of explaining, without justifying, its policies.

—The Strategies of AIDS education. Companies involve their employees as much as possible.

—Hiring a Health Professional. One company hired a nurse specializing in AIDS information and is happy for it.

—Overcoming Stereotypes. The largest impediment to "designing AIDS programs has been the barrier created by stereotypes''. One woman breaks these steorotypes by stating "the statistics are clear—1 in 1O persons is homosexual, another 1 in 9 is bisexual. If 2O percent of the population is at risk, combined with other contributing factors of this terrible disease, then a significant educational effort is needed. Not everyone who is gay has AIDS and many AIDS victims do not fit your epidemiological model. This is everyone's problem'.

Comments: These statistics have been attacked many quarters as being unreliable. But it is interesting that on one hand the propaganda states that there are a lot of homosexuals in the population, thereby intimating :''watch out, for they have much clout''. On the other hand, the propaganda seems to say "it is not simply a disease reserved for homosexuals''.

For the individuals who are truly innocent, AIDS is really an unjust tragedy. However, too many times the innocent have been used by the no so innocent in a shameful way, e.g. the young White boy, an hemophiliac who contacted AIDS and was often on the media in the role of the non-homosexual AIDS sufferer. But when the innocents like Bergalis, the young lady who was contaminated by her dentist, fought back and refused to be used by the AIDS pressure groups, the media were alarmed. Naturally, we want the best possible care and sympathy for victims of this disease. But we do not want them to be used against us as proof that AIDS is no longer reserved to marginal segments of the population.

We also resent the fact that the liberals utilize "gray" segments of the population as if they were bona fide members of non-high risk groups. When bisexuals, instead of homosexuals and promiscuous people instead of prostitutes are mentioned to have AIDS and used as a proof that AIDS has reached the mainstream of the population, we would like to tell the liberals and libertine, in the media and where-ever else they are : "speak for yourself". We do not belong to that mainstream. This water is still much too dirty and smells much too much for it to be mainstream water.

We are not sure we want the best possible care for those in groups who are so self-destructive and asocial that they do not care whether they have AIDS or not and care even less whether they are passing it on to someone else. We know that this epidemic would cease spreading if all "people at risk'' changed their behavior. But change of behavior for homosexuals, prostitutes and drug users seems to be the last thing they and their ideological supporters want to see. Those liberals who in their heart are social reformers and want to change the world are strictly opposed for such changes.

LEVI STRAUSS should not support the AIDS high risk groups as well as a sin, homosexuality, which "cries to heaven for justice." Christians all over the world who want to buy a pair of "jeans'' should take notice. We are calling for a boycott of all LEVI STRAUSS' products and corporate stocks.

Corporate Ethics File 4/4a
St. Antoninus Institute


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