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Deborah King Headshot

David Bronner Versus the GMO Goliath

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Do you want to know what's in the food you're eating? I do. Right now, the state of Washington is counting votes on Initiative 522 to determine if genetically-modified food will have to be labeled as such. It's a David-versus-Goliath fight, as the deep pockets of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and firms such as Monsanto and Dupont have contributed three times the funds to fight those who have donated to the Yes for 522 campaign. And it is, indeed, a David fighting this Goliath.

If the "yes" vote carries the day, a big thanks will be due to David Bronner, grandson of the founder of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and its present-day CEO, and the company's $1.8 million contribution to the Yes on 522 cause. The company and its 40-year-old head are unique in the business world: standing tall and proud in their truth, marketing be damned.

How many companies refuse to sell their product in Walmart because they don't like the lousy pay and benefits its workers receive, and don't like the politics the chain espouses? Dr. Bronner's walks its talk. In 1999, soon after David took over the reins of the company, he put a ceiling on the top salary its execs could be paid at five times what the lowest-paid workers receive. And they hire people David meets at the annual Burning Man as well as grandmotherly-type women -- not exactly status quo for how business operates these days.

They also don't advertise. Well, hardly at all. The labels on the tingly peppermint soap are a soapbox, so to speak, for everything from Grandpa Bronner's All-One God Faith to David's campaigns to legalize hemp, do away with income inequality, and to make changes in fair trade and organic standards. (Bronner's was the first soap company in the world to get organic certification in 2003, then they sued Kiss My Face and Estée Lauder for being "organic" on their label but not in actual ingredients.) The label promoted the Yes on 522 campaign. Bronner's runs some ads in Mother Jones, but nothing in the mainstream media.

You'd think that would be a problem, but since Bronner took over the company -- after getting a degree in biology from Harvard and spending years in Amsterdam's alternative world before agreeing to work in the family business -- sales have grown 1,300 percent to $64 million a year. Being as "unapologetically countercultural as possible" has worked.

Instead of worrying about making huge amounts of money, Bronner wants to feel good about what he does. Isn't that what we all want? To feel good about what we do and how we live? It makes you wonder what the world would be like if more businesses operated with such transparency, and limited executive pay. That alone could go a long way to reducing the vast inequality in wealth we see these days.

Win or lose on Yes for 522 won't change who David Bronner is and the company he heads. So, like David, stand tall in your truth. Believe in who you are and what you stand for. As the author of a book called Truth Heals, it's obvious that I believe that truth is the way to go. Kudos to David Bronner for wielding his slingshot against the giants of the food industry!