US bosses under pressure to denounce election law

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The bosses of Coca-Cola, Delta and other big companies based in the state of Georgia have faced heavy pressure to steer clear of a law that critics say restricts access to the ballot box and is particularly aimed at African-American voters.

The Republican governor of this state promulgated last Thursday a text supposed to fight against electoral fraud, by strengthening checks on the identity of voters voting by mail. It also prohibits the distribution of water or food in long lines on polling days and restricts the number of ballot boxes installed in the street to cast ballots.

Several civil rights organizations had called on Coca-Cola and Delta, but also Home Depot or the insurer Aflac, to speak out publicly against this text before its adoption. But the majority of companies have remained in the background.

The Delta airline was thus cautiously engaged on Friday, explaining in a press release that it was “in intensive discussions” with Democratic and Republican representatives to improve the text.

Insufficient, estimated many Internet users who quickly circulated the slogan “BoycottDelta” on Twitter.

Coca-Cola faced a similar situation.

The head of the company for North America, Alfredo Rivera, assured in a message Monday that the company was “disappointed” by the adoption of the text and would continue to oppose elsewhere in the country to any legislative project. limiting access to voting.

That did not stop an influential religious leader, Reginald Jackson, from calling for a protest the next day, Thursday, outside the headquarters of the soft drink giant in Atlanta to announce the start of a boycott.

Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincey said on Wednesday that the company had “always been opposed” to the text but now no longer spoke “publicly” of its opposition. Going further than Mr. Rivera, he estimated on CNBC that the law was “bad”.

National struggle

Ed Bastian, the boss of Delta, was also more incisive Wednesday, affirming in a message to the employees that the new law was “unacceptable”.

“After having had the time to fully understand all that the text implies, and after discussions with leaders and employees of the black community, it is evident that the law includes provisions which will make the exercise of the constitutional right to electing its representatives more complicated for many under-represented voters, especially black voters, ”he wrote.

One of the organizations that had called on businesses to be heard more vehemently, New Georgia Project Action Fund, welcomed the stance.

“Even if it is late, Delta’s message finally reflects the truth,” commented its general manager, Nsé Ufot, in a message sent to AFP.

She regrets, however, that the boss “did not feel sooner the need to engage in discussions with representatives” of minorities and now calls on him to fight against similar laws that are being prepared in the country, in Arizona, in Texas , in Florida and Michigan in particular.

Led by Donald Trump, who has never explicitly conceded his defeat, many Republicans indeed consider, without proof, that the last elections were marred by fraud.

They have therefore prepared numerous bills which could limit access to the vote.

But in Georgia, a state in the southern United States still bearing the wounds of segregation, it is thanks to a record mobilization, in particular of black voters, that Joe Biden won in November 2020.

More than 70 prominent African-Americans from the business world, led by the boss of the Merck laboratory, Ken Frazier, and the former boss of American Express, Ken Chenault, also called in a letter on the companies to act more forcefully on the to draft laws in preparation elsewhere in the country, the New York Times.

“For the moment we have mainly seen generic messages from companies, supporting the right to vote (…), we are now asking them to walk the talk,” said Mr. Chenault on the CNBC channel.