Yesterday at Mass, the first day of the New Year and celebrating the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, our parish priest told us that Western civilisation was crumbling before our eyes. We all knew what he meant and we all knew that he was referring to the Christian civilisation that had built and shaped the West after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Yet I don’t want to write about doom and gloom. The bigger picture may be as our pp thinks, but we can still celebrate small victories. One of these, news of which broke just before Christmas, was that Tesco will not be sponsoring the London gay pride march in 2013. Readers of this and William Oddie’s blog will remember that we drew attention to Tesco’s decision to give £30,000 in sponsorship for a “family area” for this year’s march. Many people wrote to Tesco in response to this news, pointing out that the sponsorship did not reflect the views, beliefs and outlook of the overwhelming number of families that choose to shop at Tesco.
I wrote to the company myself, saying that it had moved from its policy of giving generous donations to charities to sponsoring a clearly political and highly controversial event. I asked them if they would do the same for a March for Life. Others wrote in to point out the debauched features of the Pride London march or the way some elements in these parades dress up in ways designed to mock Christian belief. All of us told them that by this decision the company had ceased to be “family friendly” in the way most people interpret the phrase and that we would shop elsewhere.
Judging from those people who sent me Tesco’s answers to their letters of protest, we all received stereotypical replies along the lines of “We believe everyone should be welcome at Tesco. This is reflected in the people we employ and the customers we serve. It is also reflected in the broad range of organisations and causes we serve…” followed by a list of some of the very considerable sums that Tesco donates to charities, such as the Alzheimer’s Society, and adding: “We are proud to have been invited to support World Pride in 2012 among a variety of community and charitable events.”
Without picking up here on Tesco’s sense of the words “community” or “charitable” in relation to the Pride marches, I thought this would be the end of the affair; why should a huge business like Tesco bother about – in their eyes – a bunch of hardline Christians when they had won the pink pound? Then on December 21 a friend who helps organise the Christian Party in Wales sent me an email she had received from Danielle Thomas, Tesco’s Customer Service Executive, which proved us wrong.
It began by saying, “I accept that you do not agree with our decision to sponsor Pride London. Tesco is the largest private-sector employer in the UK and our workforce comes from very diverse backgrounds… We encourage those colleagues who wish to set up their own social groupings within the company, one of the most recent of which is Out at Tesco, for gay and lesbian staff. This group asked for some support for Pride London, and we agreed to do that as part of our policy to treat all who work for us fairly.”
The email continued by stating that “Our support implies no moral, philosophical or political stance. It is not an expression of Tesco’s views; it simply reflects the diversity of the people who work for us.” But it is the concluding paragraphs that are the most significant: “We know that being the UK’s leading retailer carries unique responsibilities… We have a responsibility to listen carefully to our many and diverse customers and stakeholders, respect their views and seek to balance their opinions in the decisions we make… Whatever the issue, it is never our intention deliberately to inflame or polarise public opinion or to make an already contentious debate more contentious.
“We are very aware that a well-intended action designed simply to support some of our colleagues in Tesco has unintentionally created some misunderstanding and mistrust. We would never set out to do this and we are sorry for it. We will continue to support our colleagues in the Out at Tesco network… Most of our charitable and community awareness support is, however, focused on delivering practical benefits rather than funding awareness-raising events.
“We will, therefore, discuss with Out at Tesco how we can support them in future years in ways that will not include sponsoring events… I hope that [this] begins to restore your confidence that Tesco does try to do the right thing and does indeed listen to your feedback.”
I take this at face value and read it as a turnaround; a positive response to the very large number of letters that Tesco will have received from loyal customers, appalled at its earlier decision. I am not being triumphal about this; there will be many more battles in future on behalf of the Christian civilisation that my parish priest thinks is doomed. But it is an indication that Tesco is sensitive about, and listens to, customer feedback; that it has realised there is a big difference between charitable giving with practical benefits and funding “awareness-raising events”. The company has apologised and will change its policy in 2013. That is good enough for me for now. I have written to thank them.