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Activists in Georgia are attempting to organize a boycott of The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) for not coming out strongly against the state’s new voting law.
The Activists’ Demands: Leaders of the AME Sixth Episcopal District, which encompasses more than 500 predominantly Black churches in Georgia, have criticized the Atlanta-based company for not aggressively voicing its opposition to the changes in the state’s election laws. The new measures include additional identification requirements for absentee ballots and restrictions on drop boxes for collecting absentee ballots. Critics of the law have argued it represents a new effort at voter suppression, with President Joe Biden referring to it as “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”
Bishop Reginald Jackson, presiding prelate of the AME Sixth Episcopal District, told a rally in Atlanta, “If Coca-Cola wants Black and brown people to drink their product, then they must speak up when our rights, our lives and our very democracy as we know it is under attack.
“Boycotting is not something we really want to do. Coca-Cola is a fine company. But at the same time, we think all of these major companies have responsibilities on issues of social justice.”
The Coca-Cola Experience: On March 26, Coca-Cola issued a statement that said, “We believe voting is a foundational right in America, and access should be broad-based and inclusive.”
The company added it was “active with the Metro Atlanta Chamber in expressing our concerns and advocating for positive change in voting legislation ... We will continue to identify opportunities for engagement and strive for improvements aimed at promoting and protecting the rights to vote in our home state and elsewhere.”
Coca-Cola has a history of supporting the cause of racial equality. During the 1950s, the company was among the first to prominently feature Black entertainers and athletes in its advertising. In 1964, when Atlanta’s corporate leaders initially refused to participate in a special event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, Coca-Cola’s then-CEO J. Paul Austin stepped forward first by securing a corporate presence at the event. The city’s other corporate leaders then followed his lead. The company exited the South African market in 1986 in protest of the apartheid policies, selling its business interests to a multiracial investors group.
However, in 2000 Coca-Cola was ordered to pay $156 million to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a group of Black employees accusing the company of racial discrimination. CEO James Quincey has referred to the circumstances leading up to the lawsuit as a “grave” error, stating, “As the judge said, our biggest issue was not that we made mistakes and that there were individual cases, but that when we knew, we didn’t act to remedy and improve.”
What Happens Next: Other activist groups have been seeking to move Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game from Atlanta and the PGA of America’s Masters tournament out of Augusta in protest of the new legislation.
Biden told reporters on Friday that the Justice Department was "taking a look" at the new Georgia measures, but admitted he was uncertain if the federal government could have it nullified.
"We don't know quite exactly what we can do at this point," he said.
Photo courtesy Coca-Cola South Africa.
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