In the early 1980s, when HIV/AIDS first began making its mysterious and lethal mark in San Francisco, a group of Levi Strauss employees asked senior management if they could distribute leaflets in the company headquarters. Their unequivocal response: Yes, and we’ll join you. This was likely the first corporate response to this emerging epidemic.
Fast forward 30 years, Levi Strauss & Co. and the Levi Strauss Foundation were honored by the Treatment Action Group (TAG) last Thursday for their action against the epidemic. TAG is a nonprofit advocating for better treatment, a vaccine and ultimately a cure for AIDS. It marries cutting-edge research with spirited activism to see that treatment advances benefit those who are most marginalized in the face of the epidemic.
LS&Co. has been seen as one of the best places to work for people affected by the disease, with programs to combat discrimination and treatment, and care benefits offered to all global employees. But it has also taken the battle against the disease beyond company walls, with more than $70 million in social investments to HIV/AIDS service and advocacy organizations – in San Francisco and more than 30 countries around the world.
And it hasn’t stopped there.
“Legacy is not enough,” said LSF Executive Director Daniel Lee, who accepted the award. “Being first and original is not enough. At Levi Strauss & Co., we believe it is incumbent upon us continually to push the limits of the response to this global epidemic.”
That ethos prompted LSF to become the first corporate foundation to support sterile needle programs as the only proven method of preventing the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users.
TAG founded the Research in Action awards 20 years ago to raise public awareness about the importance of AIDS advocacy, research and philanthropy. The awards celebrate activists, scientists, philanthropists and creative artists who have made extraordinary contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS. This year, the honorees include actor/activist Rosie Perez, journalist Margaret Russell and longtime TAG board president Barbara Hughes.
“In our programs, policies for employees and campaigns, we have sought to be pioneering, bold and honest. We have sometimes raised a few eyebrows along the way,” Lee said. “But as Bob Haas – who served as LS&Co.’s CEO and President of the Levi Strauss Foundation – would remind us, ‘if we’re not rabble-rousing and raising eyebrows, we’re probably not on the right track.’”