In an age when every week seems to bring about some new scandal related to corporate malfeasance, many consumers want to know exactly where their money’s going and whom it’s supporting. When you make a purchase, are you helping a corporation that makes donations to charity, or are you paying the salary for the valet of the CEO’s Gulfstream? Does a corporation use its profits to enrich its communities, or just its shareholders? We consumers like to vote with our wallets: we give trustworthy and upstanding companies our business and give bad corporate citizens the cold shoulder.
Some companies are founded on the principles of fair trade, some focus on environmental stewardship, and some were founded on or operate according to religious precepts. These four companies have their roots in Christianity, and their mission is to serve not just their customers, but also God.
Since 1946, when founder Truett Cathy opened his first restaurant (where he would invent the famous Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich), the family-owned company has been guided by Christian principles. Even today, its Web site lists the Corporate Purpose as: “to glorify God by being a faithful steward to all that is entrusted to us.” All Chick-fil-A locations are famously closed on Sundays, allowing staff to spend time with their families and attend church. Based near Atlanta, the company sponsors many scholarships for kids and teenagers, and invests heavily in college sports partnerships, such as the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Bowl makes many charitable gifts to causes such as the Georgia National Guard, the National Kidney Foundation, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Schools for Niger. It also partners with Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family to place religious-themed toys in children’s meals, operates the WinShape Foundation, which promotes Christian-based leadership, training, and marriage seminars, and consistently supports crisis pregnancy centers.
Based in Oklahoma City, the arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby is extremely forthcoming about its religious convictions, listing on its Web site its commitment to “honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles” and “sharing the Lord’s blessings with our employees, and investing in our community.” The company, which also owns Mardel Christian bookstores and other businesses, has deeply Evangelical roots, donating to many ministry projects, playing mainly modern Christian music in its stores, and famously taking out full-page newspaper ads on major Christian holidays. The company has donated about $80 million so far to Oral Roberts University, as well as other religiously affiliated charities. The Dallas Morning News reported in March 2010 that the company was seeking to create a National Bible Museum. Hobby Lobby, too, is closed on Sundays, and employs a full-time chaplain to tend to its employees’ spiritual needs, as well as run onsite health clinics for their medical care.
This renowned West Coast fast-food restaurant with a secret menu is quite low-key about the religious aspects of its operation. The Snyder family, who founded the chain in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948, is Christian, and in the 1980s, their son Richard started printing references to Bible verses on the chain’s cups, wrappers, and other paper goods when he became the CEO. The references include the popular John 3:16, Proverbs 3:5, and Revelation 3:20. The citations are discreet, and since In-N-Out’s customer base is extremely loyal, the company receives few complaints about them. Richard Snyder died in 1993, but In-N-Out continues to print the verses in his memory.
In-N-Out Burger is unique among fast-food restaurants for valuing fresh ingredients and treating its employees far better than the industry standard. The restaurants do not use microwaves or freezers, and every menu item is prepared fresh to order. Employees’ starting salary is almost $10 per hour, far beyond state and federal minimum-wage standards, and the company provides full benefits, paid vacation days, holiday time off, free on-shift meals, and company-sponsored parties and events. In Fast Food Nation , author Eric Schlosser writes, “In March of 2000, the annual Restaurants and Institutions Choice in Chains survey found that among the nation’s fast food hamburger chains, In-N-Out ranked first in food quality, value, service, atmosphere, and cleanliness. In-N-Out has ranked highest in food quality every year that the chain has been included in the survey.”
It may seem incongruous to pair conservative Christianity with cheap, flimsy tops and miniskirts, but retail giant Forever 21 is well known for having deeply religious founders. After learning about In-N-Out Burger doing the same, the founders of Forever 21, Don and Jin Sook Chang, started printing “John 3:16” on the bottom of all their shopping bags as a proclamation of their faith. The Changs, emigrants from South Korea, have built a discount retail empire and consider themselves the epitome of the American Dream. They attend predawn church services and encourage their business associates and vendors to do the same; many garment-industry insiders even claim that they give preferential treatment to vendors and manufacturers that profess similar Christian beliefs. Most of the clothes sold at the company are manufactured in the United States, but Forever 21 has had to deal with several labor-related lawsuits alleging that its employees were denied wages and benefits, forced to work unpaid overtime, and suffered other employment violations. The company has also had to fight lawsuits from high-profile designers alleging that Forever 21 steals designs to create cheap knock-offs.
Wherever you choose to shop or eat, it’s important to be aware of which companies follow fair labor standards, which give back to their communities, and which just worship at the altar of the almighty dollar. Many companies talk the talk, but few walk the walk when it comes to living by biblical principles. Some consumers may object to patronizing businesses that are so open about their faith, but it’s more important to judge a company by its conduct than simply by its convictions.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons .