Johannes Läderach, an evangelical Christian and CEO of the premium chocolate maker, has defended his opposition to same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to have an abortion – despite calls for boycotts.
“I understand it if people value a woman’s right to choose more than an unborn child’s right to life. But I ask for understanding for my opinion,” Läderach, 33, told the NZZ am Sonntagexternal link newspaper on Sunday. “I’m allowed to have a different opinion.”
So far this plea hasn’t worked. Calls for a boycottexternal link have been made by LGBTQ associations and political activists. In October a store in Basel had to be evacuated following a stink bomb attack. In December same-sex couples hugged and kissed outside a Läderach branchexternal link in Zug.
“It was about us, as customers, wanting to draw attention to our displeasure at the patent homophobia,” said the flashmob organiser and cantonal politician Rupan Sivaganesanexternal link. “Not many people are aware of the stance of the company’s management.”
“No one at Läderach is homophobic – neither the management nor the staff,” Johannes Läderach protested. “We have homosexuals working for us. We don’t ask about it. Läderach has a zero-tolerance policy regarding discrimination.”
‘Not a misogynist’
Johannes Läderach took over at the top from his father, Jürg, in 2018. Jürg Läderach has also been president of the Swiss branch of Christianity for Todayexternal link, which until recently was known as Christians for Truth, since 1994. The association’s secretary, Walter Mannhart, is head of procurement at Läderach.
Christianity for Today has campaigned against a range of issues, including assisted suicide, sex before and outside marriage, same-sex marriage, pornography, Jesus Christ Superstar and Harry Potter, according to a report in the Tages-Anzeigerexternal link in September.
Jürg Läderach is also treasurer for the anti-abortion March for Lifeexternal link association. In September, police were attacked and injured at a March for Life demonstration in Zurich when demonstrators and counter-demonstrators clashed.
“Mr Jürg Läderach is not available for private questions,” the head of communications at Läderach told the Tages-Anzeiger.
His eldest son, also a member of Christianity for Today, told the NZZ am Sonntag that “because I fight for the unborn life, I’m accused of misogyny. But I’m not a misogynist – 60% of our managers are women”.
‘Acts of vandalism’
The companyexternal link, founded by Johannes’s grandfather in canton Glarus, eastern Switzerland, in 1962, recently opened branches in New York, Toronto and London “which we operate ourselves and supply from Switzerland”, Johannes Läderach said.
Läderach is not the first companyexternal link to feel the heat after bosses made comments that many people considered homophobic, but because it is not a listed company it doesn’t have to publish its figures.
“Business continued to grow in 2019, but we have customers who no longer buy from us. However, new customers came into the shop, who were sorry that a conflict was being played out on the back of the employees,” he told the NZZ am Sonntag, referring to the boycotts.
He also denied that the bad publicity was affecting staff morale. “Not a single employee has left the company since the wave of criticism against me”.
However, he regretted “acts of vandalism” in seven stores. “I accept that my opinions provoke resistance. But it’s not acceptable that employees have to live in fear.”
Despite this, Johannes Läderach says he’s not going to change his views or turn his back on Christian organisations.
“I don’t want to stop fighting for my Christian values just because we’re having success as a company,” he said. “Ultimately what counts is not how much profit we make but whether we stand by our convictions.”