Levi Strauss CEO: ‘We Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is’ on Voting Laws – ‘Trying to Thread the Needle’ with ‘Complex’ China Situation

On Friday’s “CNN Newsroom,” Levi Strauss & Co President and CEO Chip Bergh said that he’s “very concerned” about American democracy and “we’re going to do everything that we can to work with the legislatures to make sure that these restrictive laws don’t go into place. We put our money where our mouth is as well.” Bergh also commented on the company’s operations in China, saying that it’s “a very complex situation,” they don’t operate in Xinjiang Province, and “we’re trying to thread the needle to maintain a commercial business there while standing up for what we know is right with respect to the human rights violations in China.”

Bergh said, “I’m very concerned about our democracy right now, Poppy, and voting is a hard-won — or hard-fought and hard-won right for all Americans. And I think what we’re seeing is a backlash to the record voter turnout in 2020 and the baseless, false narrative of voter fraud. And these moves in the 47 states that are considering these [bills] and the legislation that just passed in Georgia are trying to restrict voters’ access to the polls, and it is disproportionately hurting black and brown communities.”

He added, “Well, we’re going to primarily focus on doing everything that we can to ensure that our employees and our stakeholders, particularly in the states where we have our largest operations, Texas, Florida, Kentucky in particular, that we’re going to do everything that we can to work with the legislatures to make sure that these restrictive laws don’t go into place. We put our money where our mouth is as well. In 2020, we donated over $3 million from the Levi Strauss Foundation to different states. More than 10% of that went to Georgia specifically to work with nonprofit organizations that were committed to ensuring fair and equal access to the polls and ensuring that voters could get out and vote. And we’re going to continue to do the same thing as we move forward.”

Later, host Poppy Harlow asked about Levi’s operations in China and what would be the threshold for pulling operations out of China.

Bergh responded, “So, this is a very complex situation, Poppy. And what I can say definitively, we’ve had terms of engagement that [go] back more than 30 years, which is kind of our rules of conduct, if you will, with our suppliers. And in that, there are some important aspects to it. We will not tolerate, and we do not tolerate any forced labor. And we also insist on the ability to audit our suppliers and be able to do that unannounced. Those two conditions have kept us out of Xinjiang Province for more than a decade, and we don’t produce any product in Xinjiang Province. We don’t buy any materials from Xinjiang Province. We — and China is actually now a relatively small supplier to Levi’s on a global basis. Our commercial business in China is still very small. It’s only about 3% of our total business. And we’re trying to thread the needle to maintain a commercial business there while standing up for what we know is right with respect to the human rights violations in China.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett

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