As Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets last summer, many of the country’s largest corporations expressed solidarity and pledged support for racial justice. But now, with lawmakers around the country advancing restrictive voting rights bills that would have a disproportionate impact on Black voters, corporate America has gone quiet.
Last week, as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass a sweeping law restricting voter access, Atlanta’s biggest corporations, including Delta, Coca-Cola and Home Depot, declined to weigh in, offering only broad support for voting rights. The muted response — coming from companies that last year promised to support social justice — infuriated activists, who are now calling for boycotts.
“We are all frustrated with these companies that claim that they are standing with the Black community around racial justice and racial equality,” said LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “This shows that they lack a real commitment to racial equity. They are complicit in their silence.”
On Thursday, hours after the Georgia voting restrictions were signed into law, Ms. Brown joined protesters at the Atlanta airport calling for a boycott of Delta, Georgia’s largest employer. In front of the Delta terminal, they lobbied for employees to pressure their employer and urged the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, to use his clout to sway the debate.
said the company would “invest our resources to advance social justice causes” and “use the voices of our brands to weigh in on important social conversations.”
But last week, rather than take a position on the then-pending legislation, Coca-Cola said it was aligned with local chambers of commerce, which were diplomatically calling on legislators to maximize voter participation while avoiding any pointed criticisms.
said. “Now, when they try to pass this racist legislation, we can’t get him to say anything. And our position is, if you can’t stand with us now, you don’t need our money, you don’t need our support.”
Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, a Black pastor who was elected in January, called out companies for their muted responses in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
“I’ve seen these corporations falling over themselves every year around the time of the King holiday, celebrating Dr. King,” Senator Warnock said. “The way to celebrate Dr. King is to stand up for what he represented: voting rights.”
Corporate America’s guarded approach to the partisan issue of voting rights stands in stark contrast to its engagement with other social and political issues in recent years. When legislatures advanced “bathroom bills” that would have discriminated against people who are transgender, many big companies threatened to pull out of states like Indiana, Georgia and Texas.
And over the past four years, many big companies spoke out against President Donald J. Trump on issues including climate change, immigration and white supremacy.
“It’s not as though corporations are unwilling to speak powerfully about social justice issues,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. “It seems to me perfectly legitimate for Black voters in Georgia to expect them to speak just as powerfully and directly about what is an unwarranted attack on the ability of Black voters to participate in the political process.”