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Republican efforts to restrict women’s access to abortions in several US states are testing business leaders’ growing willingness to speak out on the social issues that most divide Americans.
In recent days several media companies have threatened to boycott Georgia if a controversial anti-abortion law takes effect in the state. NBC Universal, Viacom and WarnerMedia on Thursday followed Netflix and Walt Disney in warning that restricting women’s reproductive rights could harm their ability to operate in the state where movies such as Avengers: Endgame and series such as Stranger Things were filmed.
Georgia’s Republican governor on May 7 signed into law a ban on abortions after a doctor can detect a foetal heartbeat, which can be about six weeks into a pregnancy. Critics have argued that women are often unaware if they are pregnant at that stage. The law is set to go into effect in 2020 if it survives court challenges. The comments from the media companies followed a pattern of business leaders becoming increasingly vocal on issues ranging from immigration to gay rights and gun control. But despite polls showing growing public support for such “CEO activism”, few executives have been so willing to speak out on reproductive rights.
A recent white paper from NARAL, a pro-choice campaign group, noted that many companies were “hesitant” to address the “delicate” issue of abortion, but urged chief executives to do so.
Many businesses had spoken out on workplace equality and equal pay, it noted, but reproductive rights “are largely absent from conversations about women’s advancement and equality in the workplace”. Polling suggests abortion is one of the riskiest topics on which a CEO can take a public position.
A survey by Morning Consult last year found that 30 per cent of Americans would have a more positive view of a company if it supported stricter restrictions on abortion, but 36 per cent would have a less favourable view.
“We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law2- Ted Sarandos, Netflix
In May, the female CEOs of seven smaller companies, including underwear brand Thinx and Clary Collection, a skincare group, published an advertisement in The New York Times challenging others in the business community “to speak up”. Few large companies had done so until Netflix became the first major studio to address the issue on Tuesday, with chief content officer Ted Sarandos saying the streaming service would
“rethink our entire investment in Georgia” were the abortion law to take effect. “We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” Mr Sarandos said, adding that his company would work with the American Civil Liberties Union to fight the proposed law.
“Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we’ll continue to film there — while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to,” he said.
Disney followed suit with chief executive Bob Iger telling Reuters on Wednesday that it would be “very difficult” for the company to keep filming in Georgia if the law took effect because many of its employees would not want to work in the state.
92,000 the number of jobs in Georgia associated with the entertainment industry NBC Universal
said on Thursday it would “strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future” if any such laws went into effect, echoing comments from WarnerMedia to Reuters that it would “reconsider” Georgia as the location for any new productions if the abortion law came into force.
Viacom said if the law were to take effect “we will assess whether we will continue to produce projects” in the state.
Sony Pictures hinted at the constituencies influencing corporate decision-making on the subject, telling the Financial Times it was monitoring the situation “in close consultation with our filmmakers and television showrunners, talent and other stakeholders as we consider our future production options”.
Georgia has become one of the world’s biggest production hubs in recent years as the state has served up generous film and television subsidies, allowing productions to claim 20 per cent in tax credits and an additional 10 per cent for including an embedded state logo on approved projects. The industry is estimated to support more than 92,000 local jobs, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.