- Companies including Coca-Cola and Delta are speaking out against a Georgia voting law.
- Experts say a “race for talent” is driving companies to speak out in support of progressive causes.
- In-demand employees tend to be more concerned about voter suppression than voter fraud.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Brand boycotts are back.
A staple of the Trump era, the messy politicalization of brands has returned in full force with the passage of an election and voting law in Georgia. The regulation has been slammed by progressives as an attempt to suppress votes, with President Joe Biden calling the law “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”
After Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the law on March 25, a number of companies – including Coca-Cola and Delta – have spoken out against the bill and voter suppression more generally.
Companies faced boycott threats from civil rights groups prior to their explicit denouncement of the bill. Now, companies including Delta and Coca-Cola are facing the same threats from the right.
With boycotts looming on both sides, taking political stances can seem like a lose-lose proposition. But, experts say that companies that spoke out against the voting law made the correct choice – in large part because employees want to work for companies that are willing to stand up for their values.
“Companies have to be aware of the views of the people that they’re trying to recruit,” Tony Fratto, the founder of communications consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies, told Insider. “And, the most competitive people that they’re trying to recruit – those people can go work anywhere.”
The ‘race for talent’ is pushing companies to speak out
Fratto said that the “race for talent” is a constant discussion point among his clients.
“They know that they are in a race for talent against their competitors, getting the best people, and … being seen as an attractive place to work in all ways, not just on compensation,” Fratto said.
According to Fratto, employees in 2021 want to work somewhere that reflects their values. If a company does not align with their moral compass, they are willing to start looking for jobs somewhere else that does.
Companies are battling to hire and retain highly-educated, skilled professionals with experience in their field. These in-demand employees are more likely to be concerned about voter suppression, and less likely to be worried about baseless claims of voter fraud, Fratto said.
“If you are a college educated and, in particular, if you have a secondary degree, then you’re far less likely to believe that there was fraud and the election was stolen,” he said. “You’re far more likely to be interested in issues of climate change, gun violence, and racial issues.”
Chris Allieri, founder at brand consultancy Mulberry & Astor, said that employees’ concerns are especially relevant in the “distributed and virtual” post-pandemic workplace.
“Large companies with young global workforces need to make decisions based on doing the right thing, vs. being overly concerned of a short-term blowback from a segment of the population, in one market,” Allieri continued. “You can’t pretend to be concerned about voting rights in places like Russia and China, but look the other way when it comes to Georgia.”
Companies are also closely listening to customers and investors
Allieri said that employees are one of the many stakeholders companies need to take into account.
Customers’ concerns remain important. However, just as educated, skilled employees are in high demand, younger customers with disposable income tend to be company’s top priority. And, as Insider’s Josh Barro wrote in 2018, these target customers are more likely to be liberal.
“As American politics gets more polarized by age and less polarized by income, most brands’ target customer will tend to move left relative to the country’s political median, even as the average voter sits to the right of the whole country’s political median,” Barro writes.
Barro added: “There is also the problem that conservatives are desperately uncool.”
Fratto says that investors’ values and priorities also need to be taken into consideration. Investors, especially institutional investors, have taken more interest in corporate values and social causes in recent years. For example, Amazon has faced criticism from pension groups in multiple states over its anti-union actions and worker safety concerns.
There is no single factor that pushed executives to speak out against the Georgia voting laws, as they faced boycott threats from civil rights groups and unprecedented action by Black executives.
But, in the case of Delta, employees speaking out reportedly served as a tipping point in convincing CEO Ed Bastian to denounce the law, after he had originally stayed quiet on the issue.
Bastian has “been receiving a stream of emails about the law from Black Delta employees, who make up 21 percent of the company’s work force,” The New York Times reported. “Eventually, Mr. Bastian came to the conclusion that it was deeply problematic.”