News Column

Groupon pushes back against PETA

May 21, 2014

By Ellen Jean Hirst, Chicago Tribune



May 21--A day after animal rights activists protested Groupon's relationship with circus and zoo companies they say have records of animal abuse, Groupon officials are saying they will not give in to political pressures when deciding what deals to run.

"Groupon has evolved into a marketplace that's driven by the preferences of our customers," spokesman Bill Roberts said. "We want to have an enormous marketplace with hundreds of thousands of deals and customers can pick and choose what suits them best... We listen very carefully to our customers and we offer the things that they express excitement about."

Roberts said the company doesn't make "hard and fast rules" on whether to remove deals, but said Groupon requires companies that advertise animal-focused deals to provide U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports for animal cruelty for at least the past two years before they can be featured on the site. He said the company removes offers that don't align with Groupon's policies.

"The only thing we're vowing to do is to continue to be as customer-focused as possible," he said.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals bought 359 shares of the Chicago company's stock for more than $2,000 on April 15, missing the March 31 deadline to attend the meeting at the Dana Hotel downtown like the group had hoped. Instead, PETA members held a small protest outside Groupon's annual meeting Tuesday.

PETA filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint Monday, saying Groupon fudges that rule and as a result maintains "false and deceptive advertising."

"In spite of (Groupon) being informed by PETA that they're working with companies that violate their own policy, Groupon continues to work with roadside zoos and circuses that have recent Animal Welfare Act violations," said Ashley Byrne, a PETA campaign specialist at the protest Tuesday. "So PETA is bringing the issue directly to their shareholders."

Inside the meeting, Justin Danhof, general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, urged Groupon to not give in to political pressures.

"We have a situation where PETA is at the door, pressuring the company to cancel its deals with certain circuses," Danhof said. "Rather than reacting to political whim, we suggest Groupon stay neutral to political controversies, offer deals that customers want that make business sense for the company and offer shareholders value."

Danhof said in a statement Wednesday that several Groupon executives told him that the company does not make business decisions based on politics.

"Groupon's executive team sent a loud and clear message to activist organizations trying to dictate what deals the company offers -- your opinion is not welcome," Danhof said. "Multiple company leaders told me that the company offers deals and services that their customers want, and that is what drives its business."

Delcianna Winders, deputy general counsel for PETA, said PETA will submit a shareholder resolution for Groupon's 2016 meeting if Groupon keeps the circus deals live.

PETA has a history of buying stock in companies it believes treats animals unethically. It established the practice 27 years ago and currently owns stock in dozens of companies, Winders said. Last year PETA bought shares in SeaWorld to pressure the company to release its captive whales and dolphins.

ehirst@tribune.com

Follow @EllenJeanHirst Follow @chibreakingbiz

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Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)


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