With Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the books, the focus of U.S. racial politics is shifting back to the GOP’s efforts to limit voting access in states across the country. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 47 states have introduced 361 such bills, some of which have already been enacted. That means more pressure on corporations along the lines of what befell
The intense focus on racial justice, spurred by events from
So far, the corporate responses have been largely ad hoc. Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Officer
With voter restrictions
In 2016, North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people, HB2, led many businesses to
Corporate America—and Wall Street firms, in particular—was instrumental in pressuring legislators to reform discriminatory laws such as HB2, and also withheld contributions from lawmakers such as former New Jersey Representative
Political strategists say the current pressure on corporations to stand up for Black voting rights is driven by many of the same forces that prompted them to get publicly involved in the earlier fight.
“The question five years ago was: How do you attract and retain talent if you’re hostile to LGBTQ people? Now it’s: How do you attract and retain talent if you’re ambivalent or hostile to an employee’s right to vote as a person of color?” says Bill Smith, a veteran strategist who’s worked on LGBTQ issues in several states. “How do you have a successful brand if you’re aiding and abetting politicians who are engaging in mass disenfranchisement?”
An important factor five years ago was that many corporate leaders didn’t view the push for LGBTQ equality as a typical “political” issue like taxes or regulation, but rather considered it a matter of basic human rights. Beyond just the need to attract talent and appease customers, it registered as a moral issue, and that made it easier to act on.
One Democratic strategist close to the
As new bills to limit voting work their way through legislatures in places such as Arizona and Texas, large corporations based in those states, including
In the years since, opponents of HB2 and their business allies have ultimately prevailed. More broadly, the issue of what businesses could and should be doing to oppose discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws became formalized and codified in benchmarks such as the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which tracks policies and practices and has helped to establish a set of basic guidelines for corporations to follow. Partly as a result, antigay legislation and openly antigay views among Republican lawmakers have dwindled (Garrett lost his reelection race to a Democrat). Politicians know that bills along the lines of HB2 can be expected to draw near-unified opposition from the business community.
The new attacks on voting rights and businesses that don’t speak out against them could follow a similar trajectory. Veterans of the LGBTQ push say the obvious next step should be to track corporate actions and establish a set of norms to guide future behavior—not just public statements of opposition, but affirmative actions such as supporting right-to-vote laws or organizing local voter registration drives. Social justice battles are won, they say, only when statements turn into collective actions.
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