Texas's largest companies stay silent on state abortion ban despite outrage

Despite the widespread outrage over a new Texas law that all but outlaws abortion in the state, only a handful of major companies have spoken out against the legislation that went into effect on 1 September.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Jay Janner/AP

The law relies on private citizens to carry out the ban by allowing people to file civil lawsuits against anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion after embryonic cardiac activity is detected. A divided US supreme court declined to block it, allowing it to remain in effect as its legality is worked out in lower courts.

© Photograph: Jay Janner/AP Women protest against the six-week abortion ban at the capitol in Austin, Texas, on 1 September.

Related: Salesforce offers to help staff leave Texas as abortion law takes effect

Texas’s largest corporate employers, including American Airlines, ExxonMobil, Dell Technologies, Oracle Corporation and Hewlett-Packard Enterprises – all of which are headquartered in the state – have not made any public statements about the law.

Texas has some of the most business-friendly tax and regulation laws in the country, making it unsurprising that many businesses, including Apple, Toyota and Tesla, have been luring millions of workers to Texas’s major cities through recent expansion of their operations in the state.

After the law went into effect, Governor Greg Abbott said that “a lot” of residents and businesses in the state approved of the law.

“This is not slowing down businesses coming to the state of Texas, it is accelerating the process of businesses coming to Texas … They are leaving the very liberal state of California,” he told CNBC, a nod to the number of high-profile big tech companies that have opened Texas offices in recent years.

In the interview, Abbott said that he speaks to Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, “frequently” and said Musk approves of the state’s social policies. Musk quickly responded on Twitter that he believes “government should rarely impose its will upon the people and when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness”.

“That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics,” he added.

While it may be easiest for companies to similarly stay away from “politics”, a recent poll has found that the college-educated workforce the major companies hope to attract to Texas are likely to stay away from the state because of the law. Nearly 75% of women and 58% of men said that Texas’s abortion ban would discourage them from taking a job in the state.

“Other states are competing for people,” Tammi Wallace, CEO of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg News. “If you look at what our state is doing, and then you see another state where they’re not doing some of those things, you might say, ‘Well, the money’s good, but where do I want to raise my family?”

Silence from major corporations is particularly notable given that companies have started to become vocal about progressive causes like LGBTQ rights, gender equality and racism within the last five years.

Most recently, hundreds of companies and CEOs signed a statement against restrictive voting laws in April as Georgia’s legislature was passing a series of voting restrictions. The CEOs of American Airlines and Dell were vocally critical of similar voting restrictions that were going up through the Texas legislature.

Companies have also been vocal about other abortion bans in the past. Leaders of more than 180 companies signed a statement in June 2019 that took up a full-page ad in the New York Times criticizing abortion restrictions in light of the blitz of abortion bans that were being passed in several states.

“Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortions, threatens the health independence and economic stability of our employees and customers,” the statement read. “Simply put, it goes against our values and is bad for business.”

When Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, signed an abortion ban in May 2019, leaders from major Hollywood studios, including Netflix and Disney, voiced concerns over the bill and said they would boycott filming in the state, which offers lucrative entertainment tax incentives.

“I think many people who work for us will not want to work there,” Bob Iger, then-CEO of Disney, said at the time. A federal judge ultimately blocked the Georgia bill.

Jen Stark, senior director of corporate strategy at Tara Health Foundation, said that the law had “just really hit companies by surprise” and that many companies were trying to come up with a response.

In 2019, “there was a much longer runway as multiple states were passing restrictions in succession and a longer media spotlight”, Stark said.

“There are many, many conversations being had behind the scenes with large, well-known brands,” Stark said, adding that the Don’t Ban Equality coalition, which organized the 2019 corporate statement, was working on a statement against the law they were hoping companies would sign.

One exception to the general silence over Texas’s law is the cloud-based software giant Salesforce which is offering to help relocate employees out of the state if they so wish. Referring to the “incredibly personal issues” that the law creates, a message to the company’s entire workforce sent last week said any employee and their family wishing to move elsewhere would receive assistance.

Bospar, a small California-based public relations firm, also said that it will offer $10,000 to its six Texas-based employees for relocation out of state because of the abortion ban.

Among the few other companies who have spoken out against the Texas abortion ban are the dating app companies Match Group and Bumble, ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, Yelp and Benefit Cosmetics.

The city council of Portland, Oregon, is also trying to boycott millions of dollars of goods and services coming out of Texas, including barring business-related travel to Texas, because of the ban.

The Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, called the boycott a “a complete joke” on Twitter and said: “Texas’s economy is stronger than ever. We value babies and police, they don’t.”

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