Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey reiterated his company’s support to protect voting rights in Georgia at the company’s virtual annual meeting Tuesday morning.
The company had received “several questions” on the company’s position on voting rights.
Karen Danielsson summed it up with to questions: “Should Coca-Cola even be involved in a discussion on voting rights? And I think it begs the question as to whether it’s worth the risk today for the company to be involved at all in politics or contributing money to politicians.”
Quincey acknowledged the voting rights issue was on the mind of shareholders – some who wanted the company to be more vocal and some who wanted the company to do less or nothing at all.
“While I certainly don’t see it as my role to weigh in on every issue, when it comes to Georgia and Atlanta and a certain set of issues, the company does have a point of view,” Quincey said. “We drive our business from Georgia and many of our employees in Georgia, and we need Atlanta and Georgia to be a great place to do business and a great place to be an employee and to live. “
Quincey said the company has been helping Georgia be the best possible location for the company for many decades throughout the 135-year history of the Coca-Cola Co.
“One of the things we pay attention to is the voting rights because we see voting as a foundational right, and its access should be broad-based and inclusive, Quincey continued. “So, from here, we will continue to engage with legislators of all sides, advocacy groups, business leaders and others on these issues. We will do this because it’s the right thing to do, and we are interested in creating a better shared future for everyone, particularly in our home state of Georgia.”
Then Quincey addressed the company’s stance regarding political contributions.
“First, we’ve always taken a bipartisan approach to political contributions, and our political giving criteria is fully disclosed on our website as are our actual political contributions,” Quincey said. “Last year, we updated our political giving policy to ensure that we are evaluating a broader range of criteria…
“That said, we are actually, in the moment, we’ve suspended our political giving,” Quincey continued. “We did that, like many other companies, in 2021. And we are using this pause in political giving to determine how we will effectively engage on public policy going forward and the role that political giving will play in that public policy strategy.”
Quincey concluded by saying the company is being thoughtful with its review.
“We need to get it right,” he said. “It will remain very important that we continue to effectively advocate in the public policy arena to the things we believe in and that are right for our business, our employees and our shareowners.”
The company did not get off scot free.
Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project (dedicated to increasing civic participation among Black, brown and young voters), presented a shareholder proposal on behalf of Harrington Investments against the company’s use of sugar as being a detriment to public health. The shareholder proposal called for the company to issue a report on sugar and public health.
During her presentation, Ufot tied public health to the issue of voting suppression.
“From health and well-being, to voting rights and racial justice, Coca-Cola must stop saying one thing and doing another,” Ufot said. “Consumers and investors are paying attention. I understand and applaud the value of a thriving business and strong profit. However, this should not come on the backs of the very communities and issues you claim to support. There is a clear business risk and fundamentally, you are on the wrong side of history….
“Coca-Cola is now claiming that it supports voting rights, but it funds the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, lobbyists and legislators that are trying to make it harder for people, especially from black and brown communities to vote,” Ufot continued. “Simply put, it’s time for Coke to walk its talk.”
Quincey said the company already was reducing the use of sugar in its products. It also undergoes an independent review by the independent Access to Nutrition Foundation based in the Netherlands. He urged shareholders to vote against the shareholder proposal.
Later the company announced the shareholder proposal only received 9.4 percent of the vote.
(Header Image: James Quincey, CEO of the Coca-Cola Co. Special: the Coca-Cola Co.)