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Tractor Supply is ending DEI and climate efforts after conservative backlash online

By WYATTE GRANTHAM-PHILIPS and HALELUYA HADERO - The Associated Press | Jul 10, 2024

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File

A Tractor Supply Company sign is pictured in Pittsburgh, Feb. 2, 2023. The company announced Thursday, June 27, 2024, that it is ending an array of corporate diversity and climate efforts after weeks of conservative backlash against the rural retailer had piled up online.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Tractor Supply is ending an array of corporate diversity and climate efforts, a move coming after weeks of online conservative backlash against the rural retailer.

Tractor Supply said on June 27 it would be eliminating all of its diversity, equity and inclusion roles while retiring current DEI goals. It did not elaborate on what was entailed in eliminating DEI roles.

The company added that it would "stop sponsoring nonbusiness activities" such as Pride festivals or voting campaigns -- and no longer submit data to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest advocacy group for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S.

The Brentwood, Tennessee-based retailer, which sells products ranging from farming equipment to pet supplies, also said in a statement Thursday that it would withdraw from its carbon emission goals to instead "focus on our land and water conservation efforts." There are 15 Tractor Supply locations in Utah, according to tractorsupply.com.

These changes mark a stunning shift in policy and messaging from Tractor Supply, which once touted its diversity and inclusion efforts. In June, Tractor Supply President and CEO Hal Lawton maintained that the company remained "very consistent" in how it approaches its own DEI and ESG -- environmental, social and governance -- programs for a number of years.

"(We've) just been very consistent in our emphasis there," Lawton said in a June 5 interview with The Associated Press, pointing to company web pages that he said reinforced and reported on those efforts. "We haven't walked away from anything."

The company's recent move appeared to reverse much of that -- and arrives amid a wider backdrop of conservative backlash and litigation that has targeted companies across industries, as well as a wide array of diversity initiatives, including fellowships, hiring goals, anti-bias training and contract programs for minority or women-owned businesses.

Legal attacks against companies' diversity and inclusion efforts have particularly been on the rise since June of last year, when the Supreme Court ruled to end affirmative action in college admissions. Many conservative and anti-DEI activists have been seeking to set a similar precedent in the working world.

Beyond the courtroom, some companies and brands -- from Bud Light to Target -- have been hit with online campaigns calling for boycotts.

Meanwhile, some other corporations and law firms have quietly altered their diversity programs, a stark contrast to the very public announcement made by Tractor Supply. In its statement, the company said it had "heard from customers that we have disappointed them" and "taken this feedback to heart."

The move arrived after the company faced ample pushback online from conservative activists and far-right accounts across social media, including from the prominent right-wing account known as Libs of TikTok.

The backlash against Tractor Supply appeared to bubble up in early June. In a June 6 post on social media platform X, conservative political commentator and filmmaker Robby Starbuck told his followers to "start buying what you can from other places until Tractor Supply makes REAL changes and shows that they respect the majority of their customers enough to not spend the money we give them on causes we're deeply opposed to."

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