Businesses that remained silent last week as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass legislation to restrict access to voting turned the tide on Wednesday amid mounting outrage from activists, customers and a coalition of powerful black leaders.
Delta, Georgia’s largest employer, had only made general statements in favor of the right to vote last week and refused to take a position on the legislation. The muted response drew sharp criticism, as well as protests at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and calls for a boycott.
But on Wednesday, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, made a brutal reversal. “I must make it clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not align with Delta’s values,” he wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The New York Times.
Coca-Cola, another of Georgia’s biggest companies that also refused to take a position on the legislation before it was passed, made a statement in similar terms.
“I want to be crystal clear,” said James Quincey, CEO of Coca-Cola. “The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation because it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”
The sudden reversals came less than a day after a group of prominent black executives called on companies to publicly oppose a wave of equally restrictive voting bills that Republicans are pushing forward in nearly every state from the country.
But the statements won’t change the outcome in Georgia, where the new law introduced stricter voter identification requirements for the absent ballot, limited drop boxes in predominantly black neighborhoods, and expanded lawmakers’ power over them. elections.
“It is unfortunate that the sense of urgency arose after the legislation was passed and enacted,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation and member of the board of directors of Ralph Lauren, Pepsi and Square.
Mr Bastian decided to write the memo and revise the company’s position on Tuesday night after speaking with Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express who helped organize the black executives’ statement, according to three people close to the conversation.
In the memo, Mr. Bastian said it was only after the law was passed that he truly understood the extent to which it would impose restrictions on black voters.
Today in business
“After having had the time to now fully understand everything that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees of the black community, it is evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it more difficult the exercise of many under-represented voters, especially black voters. their constitutional right to elect their representatives, ”he said. “It’s wrong.”
Mr. Bastian went further, saying that the whole premise of the new law was based on false pretenses.
“The whole rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread electoral fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” Bastian said. “It’s just not true. Unfortunately, this excuse is used in states across the country trying to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights. “
Several other companies also weighed in on the issue on Wednesday.
Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, posted a statement on LinkedIn in which the company was concerned about the wave of new restrictive voting laws. “BlackRock is concerned about efforts that may limit access to the ballot for anyone,” said Mr. Fink. “Voting must be easy and accessible for ALL eligible voters.”
Mark Mason, Citi’s chief financial officer, in a post on LinkedIn, called Georgia’s new law discriminatory.
“I am appalled by recent voter suppression laws passed in the state of Georgia,” said Mr. Mason, who is black. “I consider it a shame that our country’s efforts to prevent black Americans from fully committing to our constitutional right to vote continue to this day.
Chuck Robbins, who is the CEO of Cisco and who grew up in Georgia, said on Twitter that “voting is a fundamental right in our democracy” and that “governments should work to make voting easier, not harder”.
And Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, wrote a lengthy blog post on Georgian law, detailing what he saw as the failings of the legislation and suggesting that US companies are trying to change Georgian law.
“We hope businesses come together and make it clear that a healthy business requires a healthy community,” said Smith. “And a healthy community requires everyone to have the right to vote in a convenient, safe and secure way. This new law falls far short of the mark and we must work together to put pressure on the Georgian legislator to change it. “
Andrew Ross Sorkin contribution to reports.