Mar 31, 2021 - Economy

72 Black executives call on corporate America to fight voting restrictions

72 Black executives signed onto an open letter Wednesday demanding corporate America take action to fight GOP-led legislation that would restrict voting access in at least 43 states.

Why it matters: "The campaign appears to be the first time that so many powerful Black executives have organized to directly call out their peers for failing to stand up for racial justice," the New York Times writes.

The state of play: The letter urges corporate America to publicly oppose new legislation that would limit voting rights, calling on companies to use their reputation, money and lobbyists to sway lawmakers.

  • The effort, led by former American Express CEO Ken Chenault and outgoing Merck CEO Ken Frazier, comes in the wake of Georgia's recent passage of a law that opponents say will make it harder for Black people and other disadvantaged communities to vote.
  • Few major corporations spoke out against the Georgia bill in the weeks leading up to its final passage. "Georgia is the leading edge of a movement all around this country to restrict voting access," Frazier told CNBC, calling the restrictions "a prototype for a lot of bad laws."
  • Signees to the letter include TIAA chief executive Roger Ferguson Jr., Ariel Investments co-chief executives Mellody Hobson and John Rogers Jr., Vista Equity Partners chief executive Robert F. Smith and Raymond McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who is running for mayor in New York.

What they're saying: "Fundamentally, if you can't oppose this legislation — that's the lifeblood for black Americans, the right to vote. We can't be silent, and corporate America can't be silent. And if they can't speak out on this issue, what can they speak out on?" Chenault said on CNBC.

The big picture: A number of civil rights groups have sued Georgia over its new law, including the ACLU, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center and more. A movement is growing in Georgia to boycott Atlanta-based companies like Coca Cola that have not taken a stance against the law.

The bottom line: "Corporations have to stand up — there is no middle ground," Chenault said. "This is about all Americans having the right to vote. But we need to recognize the special history of the denial of a right to vote for Black Americans. And we will not be silent."

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