After the chairman of Italian pasta company Barilla declared that they would never use a family with gay parents in their advertisements, they received so much backlash from around the world that Chairman Guido Barilla has retracted his statement, announcing that the company would become more diverse and they were now planning inclusive television commercials.
Barilla is located in the Italian city of Parma. Italy has no legal recognition of same-sex couples. While same-sex sexual activity is legal, LGBT couples and families lack access to the same legal protections and benefits that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy.
A spokesperson for the company, Luca Virginio, told Reuters that they had been stunned by the uproar that Chairman Barilla’s comment caused.
“Italy is a very insular country, and in cities like Parma it’s even more so,” he said, according to NBC News. “The meetings have helped open our eyes and ears to the evolution taking place in the world outside Parma.” He added, “We are already working on [a]new advertising concept that will be much more open and much more inclusive,” though he did not elaborate.
Much of the backlash was conducted via social media sites, where people vowed to boycott the company and urged others to do the same. One widely-posted picture was of a box of the company’s pasta digitally altered to read “Bigotoni” rather than “Rigatoni.”
Chairman Barilla, 55, is the great-grandson of the company’s founder. He has met with LGBT activists and organizations multiple times since the gaffe.
According to a press release on the company website, dated November 4, Barilla Group has established a Diversity & Inclusion Board, “comprising external experts and advocates who will help Barilla establish concrete goals and strategies for improving diversity and equality in the company’s workforce and culture with regard to sexual orientation, gender balance, disability rights and multicultural and intergenerational issues.”
Consultants on the board so far include David Mixner, “a prominent global leader” in the LGBT community, Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi, and Barilla’s first Chief Diversity Officer, Talita Erickson, “a Brazilian-born attorney who for the past year has served as General Counsel to Barilla America.”
It also announced they will now be participating in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which rates companies on their treatment of LGBT employees.
The company, which is privately owned, did not reveal if the boycott had hurt their sales figures. In 2012, its profits fell to €60 million (about $81 million), a drop of more than 21 percent, as Italy suffered its worst recession since World War II.