In an era in which underwear brands fundraise for Black Lives Matter and Pride month is essentially a corporate holiday, many Americans woke up Thursday wondering what the brands would have to say about the newly enacted Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks.
“It’ll be very interesting to see which companies stand up for women by refusing to do business or [host] events/conferences/etc in Texas,” tweeted writer Jill Filipovic.
“Good morning, which corporations have announced they’re leaving Texas because it’s no longer a safe place for their employees?” tweeted Amanda Litman, founder of the progressive political organization Run for Something, adding the side-eye emoji for emphasis.
Their curiosity has been met, so far, with silence.
While a few smaller companies have condemned the law’s passage, none of the 25 largest companies based in Texas have publicly addressed it. The Daily Beast reached out to six of them—as well as to the Dallas WNBA team and popular Austin-based tech and music festival SXSW—and all either declined to comment or did not respond.
The White House was also taking a pass on how companies should respond. Asked whether the Biden administration would support a business boycott of Texas, press secretary Jen Psaki said that was “not a call we’re making from here.”
The corporate silence may have something to do with the speed at which the Texas legislation, S.B. 8, was enacted. Similar bills, sometimes called “heartbeat bills,” have been blocked by courts in the 10 other states. But a provision in S.B. 8 that leaves enforcement up to private citizens, not state authorities, stalled the legal challenges enough to let it take effect as planned on Wednesday—to the surprise of many outside the reproductive rights space.
“In this instance, for folks not on the inside and watching this day to day, they didn’t have the benefit of a waiting period,” said Jen Stark, senior director of corporate strategy at the Tara Health Foundation, an organization that focuses on improving health care for women and girls. “This is hitting companies fast and furious.”
“We want more than silence from companies, but at the risk of sounding too optimistic, I do think silence can be interpreted as companies trying to figure out and find their way,” she added.
But other advocates saw something more sinister. Women’s rights group UltraViolet pointed out that one of the largest companies headquartered in Texas—AT&T—had donated nearly $300,000 to the lawmakers who sponsored S.B. 8 in 2020 alone. Other major Texas companies like McKesson, Marathon Oil, and Service Corporation International all donated thousands of dollars to the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Bryan Hughes, according to federal filings. (AT&T did not respond to a request for comment.)
Journalist Jedd Legum tweeted out a list of Hughes’ biggest sponsors Thursday, driving followers to call for a boycott or phone the companies directly.
“Corporate America has been silent for too long on this issue while they draw PR kudos for their pro-women, C-suite-style feminist girl-boss facade,” said Sonja Spoo, UltraViolet’s director of reproductive rights campaigns. “If you look at companies’ values by how they give politically… that gives a totally different reality.”
A handful of companies have released statements on the issue: Benefit Cosmetics and the production company Bad Robot condemned the law in social media posts, and the dating app Bumble announced it was creating a relief fund to help people in Texas seeking abortions. More than 300 companies previously signed into a statement opposing similar bans in other states, saying they “threaten the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers.”
But Texas lawmakers have seen none of the blowback that has accompanied unpopular legislation in other places in recent years. North Carolina, for instance, drew immediate backlash from companies like IBM, American Airlines, PayPal, and Apple when it passed a law barring cities from banning LGBTQ discrimination in 2016. This year, when Georgia passed a set of stringent voting restrictions, multiple film and TV productions pulled out of the state and Major League Baseball relocated its All-Star Game. Hundreds of companies later signed onto a statement opposing similar laws across the country.
While abortion rights have traditionally been viewed as one of the most divisive topics in the country, recent studies suggest this is changing—and that companies that try to stay out of the fray could pay a price. A 2018 survey conducted by NARAL Pro-Choice America and The Harris Poll found that 75 percent of working Americans believe abortion should be legal, and 67 percent said it is at least somewhat important for their company to take a stand on reproductive freedom.
Data released Thursday by the Tara Health Foundation found that 66 percent of college-educated workers say they would not take a job in a state with a six-week abortion ban, and about half would consider moving out of a state that passed one. About three-quarters of women and more than half of men surveyed said that S.B. 8 would discourage them from working or applying for a job in Texas.
And when it comes to draconian laws like the Texas ban, several advocates said, the conversation becomes not just about politics, but about conditions on the ground for workers.
“A lot of these companies settle in the South because of low taxes, but at the end of the day, do you want your employees to be subject to the restrictive laws in these states?” said Ross Morales Rocketto, the co-founder of Run for Something. “I think that’s a real question they’re going to have to ask themselves.”
“This is about a quality of life issue and a fundamental rights issue for their employees,” he added. “Everyone should be angry about this.”
—With reporting by Zoe Richards