Stoli parent company SPI Group adds gays to non-discrimination policy, leaves out trans

Stolichnaya vodka’s parent company, SPI Group, in the past few days added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy. It came to light only last week that the company which proclaims itself to be very pro-gay didn’t even include protect its gay employees from discrimination.

And while the new language is laudable, it still fails to mention gender identity, aka trans people.

I’d written on Friday about the seeming contradiction between Stoli’s claims that it’s gay gay gay, and the fact that Stoli (and its parent company SPI Group) do not include gay or trans people in its non-discrimination policy.  It’s also still not clear if Stoli, or SPI Group, offers any same-sex partner benefits (such as health benefits), or benefits of particular relevance to transgender people.

Photos of Stoli vodka dump at Russian consulate in NYC by ©Scott Wooledge.

Photos of Stoli vodka dump at Russian consulate in NYC by ©Scott Wooledge.

As a bit of background, gays and allies around the world began a boycott of all Russian vodka a few weeks ago in response to Russia’s brutal crackdown on gay and trans people in that country.

Here’s how the SPI Group Web site like on July 22, 2013 – no non-discrimination language:


And here’s SPI Group’s Web site after the boycott of Stoli vodka (and all Russian vodka) was announced – not the sexual orientation non-discrimination, but also not that gender identity is not listed:


That’s a good start, but a better start would add gender identity.  We’d also like a definitive answer as to what, if any, same-sex partner benefits, and benefits for transgender employees, Stoli and SPI Group offer worldwide.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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23 Responses to “Stoli parent company SPI Group adds gays to non-discrimination policy, leaves out trans”

  1. Michael Petrelis says:

    Russian vodka dump on Tuesday, August 6 at noon local time at San Francisco’s City Hall. Please join us. Also, Sir Ian McKellen shows his solidarity with Russian gays in a photo posted here:

  2. danolgb says:

    Someone made a handy buzzfeed type link that explains this just as good as anything.

  3. danolgb says:

    International media is also picking up why the Stoli boycott is misguided.

    “[Shefler] was forced out of Russia over 10 years ago and has been in courts around the world as the Russian government has tried to get the brand back,” SPI North America president John Esposito says. “Hurting Stoli in the U.S. is actually probably going to make the Russian government happy, given that they’ve been fighting us for the last 13 years. They’re probably going to be sitting there chuckling.”

  4. danolgb says:

    You have severe reading comprehension issues if you think the CEO of Stoli says he supports the boycott. What he actually said was he supports the objectives. There’s a big difference. You’d find that most of Europe buys grain from Russia. They produce a lot of it. A lot of Asia buys Russian grain as well. Your point 3 has been responded to multiple times. It’s an old label. The FDA doesn’t let you label a product with a country of origin different than the one that it’s made in. That’s why it’s now called Premium Vodka and not Russian Vodka. Stoli’s owner is living in exile because, guess what, Putin wants him arrested too. So there’s little he can do to influence the leaders in Russia since he’s already at odds with them.
    You also prove the point that you don’t wish to listen to anyone actually near the heart of the issue.

  5. Thom Allen says:

    Please see the Stoli website. 1. The CEO’s letter says that Stoli supports the boycott. 2. Mendeleev states that Stoli is made from wheat, rye and raw alcohol, RUSSIAN wheat, rye and raw alcohol. Unless Russia is donating these goods, money from the purchase of Stoli is feeding the Russian economy. 3. The Stoli Label says “Premium RUSSIAN vodka,” and mentions RUSSIA at least four times on the label. If it isn’t Russian, then Stoli is lying. Regardless, as I said, a percentage of money from Stoli sales goes to Russia. 4. From your link: The local LGBT community in Riga, where Stoli employs a huge workforce, is worried the boycott MIGHT IMPACT the economy . . .” emphasis mine. They DON”T say that there has been ANY impact, to date. 5. Blaming the Russian reaction to LGBTQs on the “West” is fallacious, at least in part. The Russian Orthodox church is leading the anti-gay crackdown because they detest homosexuals and Putin is playing along with them. 6. Hype? Hardly. The Russian repression is making world news. The IOC has made at least one statement. The UN has, as well. The boycott has spread and is including other Russian goods. The Russian repression has made headlines around the world. There’s concern in the US government over these “policies” and how they will afffect gay visitors and athletes. Other countries are advising LGBTQs to be cautious about traveling to Russia. 7. Give Stoli a chance to act? The Russian repression didn’t just happen overnight. Repressive laws were passed in other, local Russian areas months ago, long before Putin signed the national law. Stoli had months to do something. And didn’t. They had months to examine their benefits policies and anti-discrimination clauses and didn’t. They had YEARS to take the words Russia and Russian off of their vodka bottles (since their HQ is in Luxembourg, and the bottling is done in Latvia), yet they didn’t. What did they do? They funded a “Stoli Guy” campaign. That’s real social responsibility.

    So, before you rush to support Stoli, denounce the boycott and blame Russia’s repression on the West, look at the evidence out there.

  6. danolgb says:

    Thank you Naja. I too went looking for examples and when I couldn’t find any, that’s when I started deducing why companies in other countries wouldn’t have them because the law is already fairly universal. Apparently, HSBC has a consulting arm in the EU that recommends companies have a non-discrim clause, but it appears to be just a recommendation.

  7. danolgb says:

    Careful of falling victim to an echo chamber, it makes you think you’re being more effective than you are. When the people in Russia are saying it’s not going to help and they gay and lesbian groups in Latvia are begging us to stop boycotting their product and we refuse to listen, it means we’re caught up in our own hype. We’re trying to solve a Russian problem with an American solution. John’s own article here dedicates one mere sentence to the problems in Russia. The rest of the post is more trying to justify the misguided boycott. The whole reason the crackdown on gays and lesbians was because of a belief the West is bringing in bad influences. These emotional responses only embolden them. Listen, I want to help them as much as anyone else, but we need to listen to them. We never gave Stoli a chance to act before a boycott was called and now we just ignore any attempt they make as PR. Yet we swelled with excitement when Svedka sponsored the tweets. What do you think that was? It’s time we step back and listen to the people actually close to the problem and stop trying to force our solutions on them.

  8. Thom Allen says:

    Hardly a distraction when every anti-Stoli thread clearly explains that the issue arose because of the way the Russian government is treating LGBTQs. Hardly a distraction when it has helped get world attention focused on the on the gang beatings, suppression and arrests of LGBTQs.

  9. mpeasee says:

    Your absolutely right!

  10. mpeasee says:


  11. FLL says:

    Only tangentially on-topic is some biographical information for Vitaly Milonov, the author and primary sponsor of Russia’s anti-“gay propaganda” law. First, the summary from Wikipedia:

    He [Milonov] is married and has two children. In 1991 he joined the Baptist church, later in 1998 he converted to the Russian Orthodox Church. On August 1, 2013, Russian media reported that two men had accused Milonov of having a sexual relationship with them while he was a city administrator in the early 2000s [St. Petersburg Times, August 1, 2013]. Milonov initially denied the accusations. However, on August 3, he acknowledged that he has made “personal mistakes” but refused to resign from office.

    Milonov remains the national sponsor of the anti-gay law, as noted by a barrage of recent media articles (in spite of the fact that he has been successfully outed by the Russian media). A truly bizarre situation in Russia today. But most heartwarming of all is Milonov’s recent discovery of his hitherto unknown twin sister, who was separated from him at birth. Please ignore the difference in hair color and haircut, and concentrate on the face, neck and shoulders. Add the wire frame glasses that Maggie often wears and add the rose-colored lipstick that Milonov might wear under more discreet circumstances. Milonov and Gallagher… brother and sister separated at birth and reunited at last:

  12. Rambie says:

    Which is why I *snort* at these policies. They’re more PR and feel-good and are usually worded for the company to squirm out of if needed. Does anyone here actually trust that SPI would follow this policy? However, many companies stand by their non-discrimination policies and until ENDA passes they are better than nothing.

  13. Naja pallida says:

    Pretty standard non-discrimination for international corporations. It’s really only American, Canadian and UK companies that explicitly detail out what they don’t discriminate against. In a half-hour or so of searching through corporate non-discrimination policies to reply to another post the other day, I found many, especially large Asian companies, that basically just say “Our discrimination policy complies with the law wherever we operate.”

  14. Naja pallida says:

    This is really why law matters more than corporate policy. Corporations are sociopathic, and there is nothing stopping them from changing their corporate policy on a whim. If the law protects people, and is actually enforced, the corporate policy doesn’t really matter. The problem always comes down to proving discrimination, when they are all too happy to lie and claim it was for some other reasoning… and corporations always have more resources to defend themselves than employees do.

  15. jomicur says:

    You’re right. For a lot of companies, nondiscrimination policies are more PR than actual corporate policy. The company that demoted, then fired me ears back had a strongly worded nondiscrimination policy–which they deleted from the employees handbook the day after they fired me. (I sued and won.)

  16. Bill_Perdue says:

    Excluding coverage for trans folks is what Democrats, led by Quisling Frank, did in terms of ENDA in 2007. It’s not acceptable.

    The vodka boycott is not so much bad as it’s lame.

    We should be supporting the actions of our Russian brothers and sisters who are, very heroically in my opinion, preparing for demonstrations at the Sochi games.

    One way to do that is to begin divestment campaigns against the IOC and NBC. Divestment campaigns helped in the struggle to change South Africa.

  17. Rambie says:

    Yes, I too noticed the out-clause at the end of the new paragraph. “We support gays… except where we don’t” *snort*

  18. Brad says:

    Aside from their policies, should there be a boycott of Stoli? I’ve heard the debate about whether it’s a Russian company or not and frankly it doesn’t matter where the headquarters might be. It’s very simple. When I buy a bottle of Stoli, a portion of the money goes to Russian entrepreneurs and to the Russian government, right? Then it should be boycotted. All the other stuff doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t put money in the pockets of a government that is fighting against gay citizens’ civil rights.

  19. danolgb says:

    So, the headline is misleading. They added the whole non-discrim clause… not “adds gays and lesbians.” This is because non-discrim clauses are a US thing because our laws are lagging behind the EU in this matter. Therefore, companies go out of their way to add them here.

    Again, all this focus on Stoli is a distraction from the actual issue.

  20. Still don’t understand how the US government can allow gay athletes to compete unless they all have personal body guards.

  21. HolyMoly says:

    I guess that’s where the “…or any other basis prohibited by applicable law” part comes in. In whatever countries they do business, they have to comply with the laws of those countries, or they can’t do business there. It’s an exemption for the Russian execs as far as the Russian law is concerned.

    Now the question would be, do they adhere to “applicable law” in Russia? Does this new 90% inclusive policy apply only to SPI employees outside Russian borders, where “applicable law” demands it? The likely answer would be that gay SPI employees in Russia are still at risk. One way to find out for sure would be to contact and interview an SPI employee who’s trapped behind the Lamee Curtain.

  22. FLL says:

    They probably added the policy because of the Michael Signorile interview and the press that it’s received on this blog and other news outlets. Another indication that pressure works.

  23. sane37 says:

    Does this mean the Stoli company execs can be arrested in Russia for supporting homosexuality?

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