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Black executives pressure companies to oppose racist crackdown on voters

Dozens of prominent black business leaders issued a joint statement on Wednesday condemning the wave of voter suppression measures in U.S. states and calling on big business to publicly oppose it.

The statement, coordinated by Merck CEO Ken Frazier, former American Express CEO Ken Chenault and the Black Economic Alliance, was signed by more than 70 executives who called on companies to oppose “all measures to limit Americans’ ability to vote ”.

“As black business leaders, we cannot sit silently in the face of this growing threat to our nation’s democratic values ​​and allow the fundamental right of Americans to vote for whomever they choose to be trampled on. once again, ”the executives said. Wednesday. Their letter was published as an ad in The New York Times and coincides with growing pressure on American businesses to take concrete action against racist attempts to deny voters the right to vote.

Corporate America, the executives said, must “mobilize its collective influence to ensure justice and fairness for all.”

Megan Varner via Getty Images

Protesters hold a sit-in inside the Georgia Capitol against HB 531, which imposes new voting restrictions in the state, on March 8, 2021.

The leaders who co-signed Wednesday’s statement join ongoing calls for U.S. businesses to oppose voter suppression measures adopted by lawmakers in Republican states across the country.

Just last week Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill which imposes new requirements for postal voting, restricts the use of drop boxes and criminalizes people who give water or food to voters who stand in line. Many of the more restrictive elements of the Georgian bill are also pushed by Republican lawmakers in 43 states.

Voting rights experts and activists have compared the repressive policies to the racist voter suppression laws enacted during the Jim Crow era because of their disproportionate impact on non-white voters, and last week President Joe Biden called Georgia’s bill “Jim Crow in the 21st century”.

In Wednesday’s joint statement, the black cadre group said, “The disproportionate racial impact of these so-called ‘neutral laws’ should not be overlooked or excused.”

Local activists and state officials have mainly led the public campaign to hold business accountable as the business world lags far behind.

For weeks, activists in Georgia have threatened to boycott several large Georgia-based companies – including Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta – if the companies do not use their power to oppose voter suppression measures. Delta’s CEO reversed course on Wednesday after Delta initially backed the bill. In a note to employees, CEO Ed Bastian said the company now finds the bill “unacceptable” after “having had time to fully understand” what is in it.

Wednesday afternoon, several other companies appeared to acknowledge the rise in public pressure and also issued statements expressing some level of concern about Georgia’s bill.

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) On Sunday called on businesses to remain inactive amid voter suppression efforts in Georgia.

“I saw these companies fall on themselves every year around the time of the [Martin Luther] King’s Day celebrating Dr King, ”Warnock said. “And yes, I think the way to celebrate Dr. King is to stand up for what he stood for: the right to vote.


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