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Gun Fight

Experts say FedEx lost its battle over NRA discounts.

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When the fight came to its door, FedEx Corp. took a stand, but it didn't win and its performance got a C-, according to a panel of business experts organized by Drexel University.

Hometown giant FedEx spent most of last week in a back-and-forth (fight) over its partnership with the National Rifle Association (NRA). The Memphis shipper gives discounts to NRA members and, amid intense national pressure to drop them, FedEx said it would continue the relationship.

The NRA stood firm against any kind of gun reform after a gunman shot and killed 17 people in a Florida high school two weeks ago. Angry calls rang out to boycott the NRA and any business it works with.

Since then, more than a dozen companies cut ties with the NRA: Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Hertz, MetLife, Best Western, and more. The NRA called it "a shameful display of political and civic cowardice."

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After days of silence on the matter, FedEx issued a statement last Monday saying it would keep the discounts in place, though it differed from the NRA on gun policy. The company is "a common carrier under federal law and therefore does not and will not deny service or discriminate against any legal entity regardless of their policy positions or political views."

The day after the statement, the company clarified that the discounts weren't for the NRA, but for its members. Also, FedEx pointed out that the NRA uses UPS for shipping from its online store. Also, FedEx said it has never given any donations or sponsorships to the NRA.

The day after that clarification, FedEx issued another statement clarifying its original point. FedEx and UPS, it said, "are obligated to provide service to shippers engaged in lawful conduct."

UPS — in the same swirl of controversy — said it would continue to ship NRA gear but would not disclose the terms of its contracts.

A panel of 21 business experts from universities like Oxford, Cornell, Columbia, Georgetown, and Princeton said the moves "won't help either company win over the public."

The Real Time Expert Poll periodically grades companies that take political stands, and also rates those companies on transparency, consistency, and more. It is administered by Drexel's Institute for Strategic Leadership in partnership with the American Marketing Association.

Panelists said neither company made their motivations clear. While one panelist gave FedEx credit for "courage" for keeping "political issues out of its decision making," another said "FedEx is linking itself to values many will see as problematic in the long-term."

"Both companies appear to have been caught off-guard on this issue," says Daniel Korschun, an associate professor at Drexel's LeBow College of Business, and lead administrator of the poll. "In what appears to be lack of foresight, both FedEx and UPS have been forced to mitigate risk rather than reaffirm a longer-term strategy."

The stances "are unlikely to win over much of the public," Korschun said. "In the end, the greatest beneficiaries may be competitors such as DHL and the U.S. Post Office."

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