SEATTLE – Amazon.com is among the most progressive companies when it comes to sexual-orientation equality, offering benefits to same-sex partners of its employees and covering transgender surgical procedures.
At the same time, though, Amazon also gives money to groups seeking to undermine lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.
It's a paradox the company created when it debuted AmazonSmile a year ago. That's the online retailer's philanthropic program that donates 0.5 percent of every purchase through the program to the charity of a shopper's choice.
Customers can choose from nearly a million nonprofits, including groups that oppose same-sex marriage such as the National Organization For Marriage Education Fund and Focus on the Family, as well as the Boy Scouts of America, which bans openly gay adult leaders.
"There is clearly a conflict between Amazon's values and the program," said Seth Adam, a spokesman for GLAAD, which advocates on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. "They are supporting anti-gay discrimination."
AmazonSmile was never supposed to be a lightning rod. The company, which has faced criticism in the past for relatively meager corporate giving, set up AmazonSmile in October 2013 to give its millions of U.S. customers an easy way to support their favorite charities.
The company is trying to replicate the broad product selection of its website, offering shoppers the widest possible variety of nonprofits to designate for Amazon's giving. The choices range from the smallest local animal shelter to the giant United Way organization.
"Amazon prides itself on being customer-centric," AmazonSmile general manager Ian McAllister said. "We've structured it to put customers in control, and we feel good about that decision."
By letting customers choose, Amazon avoids taking sides.
The overwhelming majority of the nonprofits AmazonSmile supports are apolitical. But shoppers can designate the NRA Foundation, which supports "organizations and programs that ensure the continuation of our proud shooting and hunting heritage," according to the organization's website. Or they can direct gifts to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that pledges to use "the courts to reduce gun violence."