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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Coca-Cola, Delta and JPMorgan lead companies in condemning Georgia's voting law

Coca-Cola, Delta and JPMorgan lead companies in condemning Georgia's voting law

By Khristopher J. Brooks

Major U.S. companies are starting to publicly condemn a controversial new voting law recently passed in Georgia, nearly a week after Black clergymen around the state and voting-rights advocates began criticizing them for their silence and threatening some of them with boycotts. 

Top executives at Georgia-headquartered giants Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, as well as the country's biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase, are now issuing public statements that call the legislation "wrong" and "based on a lie" and vowing unspecified action to help change it. 

Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said Wednesday that voting must be accessible to all Americans. While not specifically referencing Georgia, Dimon said Chase stands against efforts that prevent Americans from being able to vote. 

Meanwhile, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told employees in an internal memo Wednesday that the law "does not match Delta's values."

"After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it's evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives," Bastian said. "That is wrong."

Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey told CNBC on Wednesday that Georgia's new voting law is "unacceptable" and "a step backwards."

"This legislation is wrong and needs to be remediated," Quincey said. "We'll continue to advocate in both private and even more clearly in public."

The Georgia law, among other things, requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail. That's an option that more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used during the coronavirus pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed. Democrats and voting rights groups said the law will disproportionately impact voters of color. Georgia's NAACP chapter is challenging the measure in federal court.

Bastian, Dimon and Quincey didn't offer details on how their companies plan to combat Georgia's law, but offered to keep their eye on its impact in the coming months. 

Delta initially issued a statement touting some parts of the law, such as expanded weekend voting, but said "we understand concerns remain over other provisions in the legislation and there continues to be work ahead in this important effort."

Boycotts threatened

The law, which passed last week, has sparked calls for boycotts of major Georgia-based companies including Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot and UPS because those companies had not spoken out against it. Home Depot and UPS still haven't publicly opposed the law so far. 

Perhaps part of the reason some Americans hope to hear those companies' stances is because Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot have governing boards that are more diverse than the average S&P 500 firm. Four out of 15 of UPS' board members are people of color, or nearly 30%. A recent study by recruiting firm Spencer Stuart found that at the 200 largest companies in the S&P 500-stock index, an average of 10% of their corporate board members were Black. Latino directors made up another 4%.

For Coca-Cola, three of its 12 board members, or 25%, are people of color, while Delta and Home Depot have two diverse board members out of 12, or 17%. 

A group of 72 Black business executives are hoping even more major companies will denounce Georgia's changes. In a letter to corporate America, former American Express CEO Ken Chenault and other leaders noted that more than 40 states are considering election changes similar to Georgia. Chenault said companies must pick a side: Either you want more people to vote or you believe in voter suppression.

"The reality is, corporations have been silent on this issue and that is why we've said action has to be taken," Chenault told "CBS This Morning."

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