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Investors wade into Georgia voting rights fray

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A group of heavyweight investors has weighed in on Georgia’s battle over controversial voting legislation.

On Tuesday, nineteen investors affiliated with funds that manage $1 trillion in assets, sent letters to six Georgia companies under pressure to take a stand specifically against SB 241, HB 531, and SB 202 — bills that critics claim will suppress votes in Georgia. The letters call on AFLAC, Coca-Cola Co., Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, Southern Co., and UPS to stop making political contributions to legislators who attempt to restrict voting rights. The investor campaign was organized by Majority Action and SEIU Workers United.

“Corporations have too often reinforced structural racism and white supremacy with political spending practices that harm and disenfranchise Black, Indigenous and other communities of color,” Eli Kasargod-Staud, executive director of Majority Action, a nonprofit group that works with shareholders to hold corporations accountable, said in a statement. “More and more investors now recognize and are calling on corporate leaders to change these practices that both undermine democracy and threaten long-term shareholder value.”

The companies have been under tremendous pressure for weeks to speak out against the legislation. The companies have issued statements saying they support access to voting but have done little else to demonstrate in direct opposition to the legislation, critics say.

“As a trustee, I know the power of capital and know these decisions are not good for these companies’ bottom lines and create reputational risks for them,” said Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons, a trustee of Illinois State University Retirement System, one of the investors. “As a county election official, I know the importance of the right to vote and making sure that voting rights are protected. I am hoping these companies, these iconic brands, will speak out forcefully against these racially motivated attacks on voting rights in Georgia.”

The head of SEIU, a wide-ranging national union, called the corporations’ silence on voting rights “unconscionable and hypocritical.”

“These companies claim they support racial justice when it is the easy thing to do, but then sit on the sidelines while the freedom to vote for millions of Blacks, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Georgians are being threatened by racist voter suppression bills,” Chris Baumann, Southern Regional Director of SEIU Workers United said in a statement. “If Coca-Cola, Southern Co., AFLAC, Delta, UPS, and Home Depot refuse to listen to the Black Latinx and AAPI workers who are the backbone of these companies, perhaps they will listen to investors who are affiliated with funds managing $1 trillion in assets under management who are demanding action. We once again call on them to publicly denounce these racist voter suppression bills and publicly commit to never giving them another dime in political contributions.”

The investor letters are the latest in a series of pressures being waged in protests and in the media. SEIU Workers and Progress Georgia have been running a state-wide digital advertising campaign demanding the companies to condemn the voting bills. Several ads urge Georgians to sign petitions and send emails to Georgia legislators. The ads also note that black buying power contributes more than $106 billion to Georgia businesses every year.

Black Georgians are the third-largest black consumer market in America, Jeffrey Humphreys, director of the Selig Center at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, told Atlanta Civic Circle. Their spending represents 24 cents of every dollar spent by Georgia residents overall, Humphreys added.

Black Buying Power in America: The Top 5 States At A Glance

Texas. $133.8 billion
New York $131.0 billion
Georgia $106.2 billion
California $105.9 billion
Florida $105.6 billion

Source: Selig Center, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia

View the investor letters here.

(Header image: Sharon McCutcheon/unsplash.com)

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