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Patagonia CEO calls on U.S. business leaders to act on restrictive voting laws

Ryan Gellert outlines three steps American CEOs should take immediately to help protect democracy.

Patagonia CEO calls on U.S. business leaders to act on restrictive voting laws
[Photo: Lars Ronbog/Getty Images for Copenhagen Fashion Summit]
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Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert is calling on CEOs and business leaders across America to not just speak out, but act up to protect democracy from restrictive voting laws like the election bill that passed last month in Georgia. Forty-seven states have already introduced 361 bills this year that would restrict voting rights.

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In a statement released Tuesday Gellert wrote, “Protecting our democracy is an all-hands-on-deck commitment that’s ongoing. Standing in solidarity with Black CEOs and business leaders, I call on fellow CEOs to join in denouncing these attacks on our democracy and to do more than make a corporate statement. The strength of our democracy depends on every vote being counted everywhere, and we must protect access to the ballot box.”

Last week, major American business leaders in Georgia began speaking out, with Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey saying, “Let me be crystal clear and unequivocal, this legislation is unacceptable,” and Delta CEO Ed Bastian writing in a memo to employees that the law is “unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.” Major League Baseball also took a stand, moving its All-Star game and player draft out of Atlanta, which league commissioner Rob Manfred said was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport.”

Moving a major spots event, and statements from two of the biggest companies headquartered in Georgia, are powerful, yet could’ve been more valuable and effective had they emerged before the legislation was actually passed, which is something both Bastian and Manfred, as well as Home Depot CEO Craig Menear (also HQ’d in Atlanta), were called out for.

As similarly restrictive legislation and gerrymandering is set to occur—or has already occurred—in several other Republican-controlled states, Gellert has outlined three specific steps that CEOs and other U.S. executives can take that will amount to more than mild criticisms after the fact.

The first step, Gellert suggests, is to fund activists working to challenge the recently passed laws in Georgia. Organizations like Black Voters Matter Fund, The New Georgia Project, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, ACLU, and Southern Poverty Law Center. Patagonia is making an immediate $1 million donation split equally between the Black Voters Matter Fund and The New Georgia Project.

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“We don’t have a PAC (political action committee) at Patagonia,” says Gellert. “But if your company does, please consider suspending contributions to any politician suppressing votes from people of color.”

The second step is for executives to write senators in states where they conduct business, calling on them to pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA). “As business leaders, we should use our platforms and lobbying power to advocate for federal protection and make clear that nobody—Republican or Democrat—should play politics with the right to vote,” says Gellert.

And the third step is for executives to commit to reaching out to business partners to facilitate speaking out against further state laws that would restrict voting access. In other words, get more business leaders to use their collective voices and influence before more of these laws get passed. Gellert cites the impact of the NCAA and NBA pulling games and major companies halting expansion plans in North Carolina in 2016 after a state bill was passed limiting LGBTQ+ protections. He praised MLB’s decision to pull this year’s All-Star Game from Atlanta, and cautioned those sticking to the sidelines.

“We need more businesses to take a stand and we can use our business networks to expand our advocacy,” says Gellert. “Opting to stay silent while the constitutional rights of voters in Georgia and across our country are being threatened is tantamount to supporting these unjust laws. Our colleagues, clients and customers won’t forget what we do in this moment.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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