A group of black business executives are pleading with corporate executives in the US to stand up against efforts to restrict access to voting after new law was passed in Georgia Critics say will violate color picker disproportionately.
Two of the organizers – Merck CEO Ken Frazier and Ken Chenault, former American Express CEO – appeared on CNBC Wednesday “Squawk Box” Describing efforts as a moral obligation in the face of longstanding injustices black voters face.
“Companies have to stand up. There is no middle ground,” said Chenault one of the first black managing directors at a Fortune 500 company. “This is about all Americans having the right to vote, but we have to recognize the particular history of denial of the right to vote for black Americans and we will not be silent,” he added.
Republican lawmakers in Georgia supported the state’s latest legislation, and the Democrats opposed it. Former president Donald Trumpwho lost to Biden and other Republicans falsely claimed that Georgia’s election last year was full of electoral fraud. president Joe Biden November was the first Democrat to win Georgia since 1992and two Democrats – Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff – also defeated their GOP opponents in runoff elections.
Have civil rights groups in Georgia was critical of some of the state’s largest corporations for not speaking out more vocal and direct against the legislation before it was introduced into law by GOP Governor Brian Kemp last week.
A number of companies made statements later on WednesdayAfter the interview with Frazier and Chenault, support for voting rights was expressed. And in a memo to the staff on Wednesday morning in Atlanta Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian expressed his displeasure with the final version of Georgian legislation labeled “unacceptable”.
In a statement to CNBC, Kemp defended the law and criticized Bastian’s memo. He said it was in stark contrast to our talks with the company, ignoring the content of the new law and unfortunately continuing to spread the same false attacks repeated by partisan activists. “
On Wednesday before, Frazier emphatically pushed back the proposal to expressly condemn the Georgian changes similar efforts are being made in other countriesCompanies would wrongly get entangled in partisan politics.
“If we allow a party to adopt voter suppression as one of its basic strategies, I don’t think the answer should be, ‘Well, we can’t comment on voter suppression because otherwise we are partisan,” said Frazier, who is set to retire as CEO of Merck after a decade at the helm later that year. “Free and fair access to the ballot was never a partisan issue. It is a fundamental right of the constitution.”
For Georgian law in particular, Frazier stressed that he was not claiming that every single provision was restrictive and hurt black voters. For example, proponents of the bill note this Mandates two Saturdays of early voting ahead of the general election when only one was previously required.
Many other issues are problematic, Frazier said, such as the restriction on the location and accessibility of ballot boxes and restrictions on the distribution of food and water to voters while they are in line. “Overall, these changes will make it much more difficult for certain voters to cast their votes,” he said.
“There is already no equal access,” added Frazier, referring to data that shows longer waiting times for black voters in Georgia as white counterparts. “We say that from state to state, unless there is solid and compelling evidence of electoral fraud, any action taken to limit the electorate of voters should be rejected,” he said.
A sign is seen as voters line up for the U.S. Senate runoff at a polling station in Marietta, Georgia, the United States, Jan. 5, 2021.
Mike Segar | Reuters
Among the dozen of business leaders who support Frazier and Chenault’s efforts is Mellody Hobson, Co-CEO and President of Ariel Investments. Hobson became chairman of earlier this month Starbucks‘ Blackboard. She is the only black chairman of an S&P 500 company. Tony West, Chief Legal Officer at OverVista Equity Partners founder and CEO Robert Smith also signed the letter organized by Frazier and Chenault published as an advertisement in the Wednesday edition of the New York Times.
“Georgia is at the forefront of a movement across the country that is restricting access to voting,” said Frazier. He added, “This type of bill needs to be stopped because you actually have to spend time reading this bill to understand what it’s doing, and I think companies should have a very strong one in Georgia and every other place To take position.”
Corporations need to recognize their power to bring about change in critical aspects of democracy, Chenault said. “If you cannot comment on this, what can you comment on?” he asked rhetorically. “People shouldn’t be focusing on, ‘Will it hurt if I speak up?” he added.
“With all due respect, many people died for the right to vote, and in this case we urge companies to take a moral stance. If companies had done this in our history, we would be far more advanced in this regard on racial relations.” Country, “concluded Chenault.
– – CNBCs Hannah Miao contributed to this report.