As Business Becomes More Political, CEOs Are Taking a Stand

May 2021
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With business leaders under pressure to condemn new voting legislation, CEOs risk blowback from all sides, The Wall Street Journal reports. Atlanta-based companies Delta and Coca-Cola have taken public stands against the Republican-led law in Georgia, which progressive activists call racist for requiring voters to show identification. (Georgia offers free ID cards.) The law, which proponents say protects election integrity, also expands early voting and offers no-excuse absentee ballots.

Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey and Delta CEO Ed Bastian both called the legislation “unacceptable.” But the business leaders’ statements came too late to please activists on the left and angered people on the right. 

As the Journal noted, engaging on social issues is now part of the CEO job description, but it’s a precarious path. Business leaders often take sides on divisive social issues in response to employee pressure or for marketing purposes, said Harris Diamond, former chief executive of ad giant McCann Worldgroup. In a 2020 survey of consumers by Edelman, about 63 percent said they choose or avoid brands based on the companies’ stances on social issues. 

“You’re walking a very treacherous line when you get involved in highly charged, emotional, political issues,” said Ken Langone, co-founder of Atlanta-based Home Depot. “You’re going to [anger] one side or the other side with your customers.”

Jim McCann, founder of, said “I don’t think we have any particular right or permission to impose our point of view on our team or to suppose that our point of view is how all our team members feel.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 top executives and corporate leaders gathered online during the weekend of April 9 to discuss their response to voting laws that are under consideration in several states and already enacted in Georgia.

Amazon, Google, Warren Buffett and hundreds of other companies and executives later signed a statement, which ran as a two-page ad in The New York Times on April 14, opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that would make it harder for people to vote. 

For further reading:

14 Views on When a Company Should Speak Out About a Social Issue Today (PRsay)
Return to Current Issue Crisis Management: Expecting the Unexpected | May 2021
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