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These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

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Business backlash
One wonders what might have happened had American business leaders and proponents of basic human rights not carried the day in Indiana and Arkansas.

And whether sentiments such as those of an Arkansas senator – he effectively said that you can't protect gays and lesbians because then everyone would want protection – would go unchallenged.

But the governors of Indiana and Arkansas have seen the light, the former a little too late and the latter after watching what happened to his counterpart.

That's because of an uprising by business leaders and the good folk of the two states, the Hoosiers and their counterparts in Arkansas.

To recap, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law last week a so-called religious freedom bill that opponents warn could lead to discrimination against LGBT customers.

In effect, critics charge, these laws would allow businesses to turn away people if they feel their religious beliefs would be violated, and to invoke this defence even in lawsuits between private citizens.

The most common examples cited are those of a florist or caterer who would could refuse to do business for a same-sex wedding.

Yesterday, Mr. Pence backed down and said he has demanded changes by the end of this week.

That followed a backlash by leaders of businesses such as Apple Inc. and Salesforce, and other people who happen to think everyone is equal.

Then today, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signalled he wouldn't sign a recently passed bill along the same lines, and has asked lawmakers to recall it and change it.

"We want to be known as a state that does not discriminate, but understands tolerance," Mr. Hutchinson said.

A revised version, a spokeswoman for the Indiana House Speaker told Reuters, may be in the Governor's hands by tomorrow.

No surprise there after what happened to Mr. Pence, and a not-so-simple nudge from Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon in a state that's home to the giant retailer.

"Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve," the Wal-Mart chief said in a statement yesterday.

"Today's passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold," he added.

"For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation."

Even Mr. Hutchinson's son signed a petition calling for a veto.

This has been a divisive issue, to say the least, and has led to some rather troubling comments.

Such as those from Arkansas Senator Hester, who had this to say after an unsuccessful campaign to amend the bill and ensure there's no discrimination against gays and lesbians:

"If you start shaving out exemptions in laws, next thing you know you'll gut the law because everyone will want an exemption," said the senator, according to news reports.

Several states have gone down this road. There's also a federal law, but it's different.

Indeed, according to The New York Times, White House press secretary Josh Earnest, referring to Indiana, said yesterday that "this piece of legislation flies in the face of the kinds of values that people all across the country strongly support."

Businesses have warned they could cut back, and some states, such as New York, have banned government-paid travel to the state.

"Today, I direct all agencies, departments, boards and commissions to immediately review all requests for state-funded or state sponsored travel to the State of Indiana and to bar any such publicly funded travel that is not essential to the enforcement of state law or public health and safety," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"New York State has been, and will continue to be, a leader in ensuring that all LGBT persons enjoy full and equal civil rights. With this action, we stand by our LGBT family members, friends and colleagues to ensure that their rights are respected."

Mr. Hutchinson told reporters today that he wanted his state's legislation to mirror the federal law, but it didn't land on his desk like that.

He has asked lawmakers to recall it and change it, and said he's working on an executive order, as well.

The federal law, he said, strikes "the right tone," and he wants something with the correct balance that recognizes the "diversity" of the Arkansas work force, economy and future.

Today, Wal-Mart lauded the Governor and the politicians, with an added push.

"We clearly support the importance of religious freedom and encourage the legislature to make certain any legislation does not encourage discrimination," the retailer said.

It's a shame, and a stain on these two states, that it came to this. But at least the citizens, who believe in basic human rights and dignity, appear to have won the day.

(Editor's note: This item has been changed to correctly identify Mr. Hutchinson.)

Lights out at the mall
Simon Property Group Inc. is pulling its hostile bid for The Macerich Co. after being rebuffed in its attempt to merge the two shopping mall companies.

Macerich said late yesterday it rejected Simon's $95.50-a-share offer, having found the bid "continues to substantially undervalue" the company.

Simon then said it was backing away after Macerich decided "not to engage in discussions."

Factories hurting
Canada's manufacturing sector is faring better, but only just, according to Royal Bank of Canada's purchasing managers' index.

As various and sundry PMIs were released around the world today, the monthly one done by RBC and Markit showed a "further downturn" in March, though at a slower pace.

The March reading was 48.9, just up from 48.7 a month earlier.

The 50 mark is the middle ground between contraction and expansion.

"With a second consecutive reading below 50, the RBC PMI is signalling that Canada's manufacturing sector continues to face headwinds," chief economist Craig Wright said in releasing the March findings.

"We remain confident that as the U.S. economy continues to strengthen and the Canadian dollar becomes more competitive, there will be an uptick in exports, a good sign for manufacturers."

That, however, will take time, he added.

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