Remember When Home Depot Refused to do Business With…?

Publicly shaming people into line is a game everybody can play


Ricardo Diaz

It was over a decade ago that purchasers representing a sometimes controversial segment of American society discovered that Home Depot had no interest in their business—in fact, it had a formal corporate policy against selling to them. As the Associated Press put it:

The Home Depot Inc., the nation's biggest hardware and home-improvement chain, has told its 1,400 stores not to do business with the U.S. government or its representatives, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday.

The newspaper checked with managers at 38 Home Depot stores in 11 states. All but two said they had received instructions from Home Depot's corporate headquarters in Atlanta this month not to take government credit cards, purchase orders or even cash if the items are being used by the federal government.

There was simmering outrage from many corners of American society. How dare a major American corporation refuse equipment and service to the federal government when there's a war on?

As it turned out, the move had little to to with a principled anti-war stance and everything to do with a principled anti-red tape stance. The federal government is a pain in the ass to deal with. With regard to a memo to store managers reiterating policy, Frank Fernandez, executive vice president and general counsel noted, "Since we have never been a federally approved contractor, our intent was to re-state our existing policy for our stores and associates and remind them of their responsibilities in complying with related rules."

A Washington Post piece on the growing kerfuffle noted, "a firm that does $50,000 worth of business in a year with the federal government automatically becomes a federal contractor and must file reams of paperwork."

But this was 2002 in hysterical post-9/11 America, and popular sentiment lay heavily against those who for reasons principled or pragmatic chose to discriminate against the federal government. You find only traces of the old fulminating online these days, but the home improvement company faced threats of boycotts and widespread challenges to its patriotism.

And so it folded.

"We've always supported the federal and local governments during emergencies and natural disasters through donations and volunteer efforts," said Bob Nardelli, Home Depot chairman, president and CEO. "Now, we'll be able to support them as part of our regular business as well."

It's good to be part of the herd. Whichever herd.

Below, Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man demonstrates a fair-handed approach to discrimination.