Costco Sealgate - Report from the Field

By Sea Shepherd Volunteer Steve Thompson

On Monday April 17th with my protest sign in hand, I walked through the main doors of 999 Lake Drive, Costco's world headquarters in Issaquah, Washington. I was greeted by a somewhat bewildered security guard sitting at a desk. He asked me what this was all about to which I replied, "My name is Steve Thompson and I am a representative of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and I will be your protester for the next 3 days." Then I added, "In case the senior executives here would like to discuss why I'm here I'll be just outside or else they can call me on my phone."

Throughout the remainder of that day I was greeted by many astonished faces, I'm fairly certain this was the first time many in Issaquah had seen someone protest against their beloved Costco.

Then at around 4:30 pm I was treated to a spectacle I will remember for quite a while. There is a main "through" road leading out of Costco's establishment through which streamed (quite literally) a lengthy caravan procession of several hundred vehicles, each being driven by a Costco employee; from the lowest shipper driving an old rusting Ford Escort to the highest senior exec driving a gleaming black S Series Mercedes Benz. All of Costco proceeded at a snail's pace past their solitary protester - many slowed down or stopped to ask me what this was all about, some were not pleased with what I told them, while others were clearly distraught with the thought that Costco, their employer, supports the Canadian seal slaughter. For these people, my response was akin to dropping a heavy weight on their shoulders.

The following morning (Tuesday, April 18th) I staked out the main road (Lake Drive) in front of a complex of two-story buildings with tinted windows that make up the center of Costco's headquarters. With my protest sign held high aimed towards these tinted windows I walked along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. On one side of my sign it read: "Boycott Costco - Save the Seals" and the other side read: "Please Costco - Say No to Dead Baby Seals in a Bottle."

Throughout the day, I would alternate between walking a beat in front of the main buildings and standing in front of the main entrance to the Costco warehouse located a mere 100 meters away from the headquarters. A common theme for many Costco shoppers who drove past me was to gawk at the sign and, cell phone in hand, repeat the wording on the sign to the person they were talking to. No doubt a common question for Costco's management in that warehouse was in reference to my protest.

Then later on that day, around 2 pm while I was on the phone with Paul [Watson], I was greeted by the droning noise of a low flying plane dragging a banner behind it that read:
"BOYCOTT  COSTCO  SAVE  THE  SEALS  SEASHEPHERD.ORG". Paul and I concluded our conversation and I called Costco's main switchboard number and informed the operator of the spectacle that was just outside and above their headquarters. Within minutes a large number of Costco employees filed out of the two main buildings and looked up towards the sky. Also, across in the Costco warehouse parking lot, the daily routine of shoppers loading their vehicles with goods ground to a halt and practically everyone present stopped what they were doing and looked up.

Originally, I had thought the plane/banner idea was a good one, but I had no idea it would have this effect - in short, it was like a nitro-boost to my protest with many people coming over to talk with me during and after this event. One such person in his early 50's sporting dark Ray-Ban style sunglasses who strolled over with a shopping cart that contained a computer printer introduced himself as John Gillis (his friend later informed me that Mr. Gillis is the former President for the Seattle Firefighters Union - a well known man around town). John had nothing but kind words of encouragement to say for what I was doing and even went so far as to contact a friend of his in the media.

A short while later, a lady from Costco's "administration" department (exact department name withheld out of respect for this lady's request to remain anonymous)) came over to offer her support. She told me she was disgusted with Costco for its decision to carry seal oil capsules and that she had been arguing at length about this with the person in the cubicle next to her. This lady went on to say that she was surprised at Costco's decision and that normally the company has high standards. According to her, these days, Jim Sinegal is more detached from the day-to-day running of Costco mainly due to its rapid expansion. She also said that he was in the office that day and had seen him earlier on in the morning and that I should attempt to schedule a meeting with him. She even pointed me over to the building where she had seen him last.

Not all the people who came over to talk with me had positive things to say - a few were angry with what I was doing, some made derogatory remarks, and some resorted to sign language of the one finger variety. One individual snatched from my hand one of the leaflets I was handing out and said they were going to review it and if anything was incorrect or misleading Costco would come after us.  I replied that I was glad they were going to review the leaflet and that this was why I was handing them out. I also informed this individual that Costco was welcome to attempt anything they would like to, since word for word, the leaflet was 100% dead accurate. This person then glared at me and walked back to Costco's administrative building.

One Costco employee out for a jog with a friend around lunchtime stopped for a moment to talk with me and commented that she couldn't believe Costco was actually selling this product. I reassured her, that in fact the company she was working for, was indeed back in the business of selling seal oil capsules derived from dead baby seals - she jogged away in silence.

One of the most memorable moments for me occurred on the same day (Tuesday) when I went in to the main office to (yet again) see about meeting with Jim Sinegal. I had to leave my protest sign at the security desk, trading it in (temporarily) for a stick-on Costco badge with my name in it. I then proceeded over to the main reception desk and spoke to an elegant lady who I had seen/spoken with on one prior occasion. I asked her what the chances were to meet with Mr. Sinegal. While she was waiting for a reply from his office, she said she had driven by me yesterday at closing time and she asked why I was the only one protesting. In turn, I thanked her for her question and informed her that my boss Captain Paul Watson had originally offered to support my action with other protestors, however, I had requested that he authorize a protest of one. This lady then asked me, "Why just one?," to which I replied that with the truth on my side that was all I needed. The look on her face was as if someone had dropped a lead weight square on her shoulders. This was a lady who, at that instant I knew, was on the side of the seals and was upset with the decision of her employer. Unfortunately, just as before on Monday, Jim Sinegal was unavailable or else unwilling to address me personally. I thanked the lady for her time and went back to retrieve my protest sign.

At the security desk the guard, a big fellow well over six-feet tall told me he would trade the sticker I was still wearing for my sign. As we swapped items, he quietly (not in keeping with his size) asked me, "We [Costco] don't really sell this stuff do we?" to which I replied that his company most certainly does. I proceeded to explain how baby seals are beaten to death primarily for their skins and that seal oil was a sideshow to the main event which is backed by the fashion industry. By this point in time, several other Costco employee's had gathered around and several were also starting to ask questions. Unfortunately, a man dressed in a pressed white shirt and tie came over and said to the group "Don't you guys have something better to do?"

The third and final day of my protest was basically a repeat of the first two days except that a wonderful lady by the name of Diane, a Sea Shepherd member from Issaquah, drove out to where I was to join my protest. Diane had also gone to the trouble of making a sign up and spent several hours protesting with me.

One of my main concerns was of the possibility that Jim Sinegal, the absolute "highest authority" of Costco Inc. might really not be aware of the fact that his company was indeed supporting the Canadian seal slaughter, since an individual in the capacity of CEO with a company that does $50+ billion in annual sales won't have much (if anything) to do with the day-to-day running of a mega-conglomerate. However, as a result of the 3-day protest, now everyone from Jim Sinegal down to the most junior employee based out of Costco's world headquarters are all fully aware of Costco's support of the Canadian seal slaughter. This has had a serious effect on Costco's HQ in that it has polarized the issue within their ranks: There are two camps inside 999 Lake Drive, those who are distraught/depressed/demoralized with what their employer is promoting and those who are not pleased with Costco's name being questioned at all. To both groups I must simply state that I am sorry but I can't help you - best to take this matter up with senior management. And these two camps are currently not getting along, the best example of this (noted above) is the remarks from the lady in "administration" as I am certain this same scenario has been repeated in many offices, cubicles, hallways, and lunchrooms' within Costco's HQ I can also confirm after speaking with Charles Burnett on Friday, April 21st (2 days following my protest) that Mr. Sinegal is now fully aware of his company's involvement in the Canadian seal slaughter as an active promoter of seal products.

So now there can be no excuses from Costco, (in my opinion) this company has willingly and with no regard for the welfare of the environment or for the mental well being of its employees (those with a compassion inclination) supported a brutal and unnecessary industry carried on the broken backs of Canada's poor baby harp seals.

In closing, I would also like to express my sincere thanks to Rob Knight and Stacey Barnier, two Seattle area Sea Shepherd members who (along with their 2 gentle dogs) kindly allowed me to stay overnight at their home during my Costco protest. You are both wonderful caring people and I am privileged to have met you.

If you would like to let Costco know how you feel about the fact that they sell a product derived from dead baby seals:

CEO of Costco:

Jim Sinegal
Chief Executive Officer

Karen Paulsell
Administrative Assistant to Jim Sinegal
Direct phone: 425-313-8565
Fax: 425-313-8103

Shareholders - Two contacts best used by anyone who holds shares in Costco or who is thinking about purchasing shares:

Sharon Rugh
Executive Assistant to Richard Galanti
Direct phone: 425-313-8256
Fax: 425-313-6593

Richard Galanti
Chief Financial Officer
Direct phone: as of yet unknown

Canadian Senior Executives - Costco's top decision-makers in Canada (the ones who ultimately pushed to restock the shelves with seal oil caps):

Louise Wendling
Senior Vice President of Costco Canada
Direct phone: 613-221-2000 ext. 2020
Fax: 613-221-2001

Pierre Riel
Senior VP and General Manager for Eastern Canada
Direct phone: 613-221-2000 ext. 2003
Fax: 613-221-2001

Pharmaceuticals - Two individuals in Canada in charge of Costco's pharmaceutical division which handles the seal oil product:

Reza Farmand
Director of Pharmacy
Direct phone: 613-221-2313
Fax: 613-221-2001

Mitch Johnston
Buyer - Canadian Pharmacies
Direct phone: 613-221-2385