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Amazon's headquarters choice could say a lot about diversity in America

In October, Jeff Bezos stepped to the podium at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner to...

Posted: Jan 9, 2018 6:49 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2018 6:49 PM

In October, Jeff Bezos stepped to the podium at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner to deliver a speech befitting a social activist rather than a CEO.

"We shouldn't just look past inequality," he told the crowd of more than 3,500 gathered in support of LGBTQ rights. "We should expose it, understand it, question it and fix it." He exited the stage as the proud recipient of HRC's 2017 National Equality Award.

The award comes at an interesting moment for Bezos, who is about to choose a home for Amazon's $5 billion second headquarters -- one of the most anticipated business decisions in recent history. But with experts and pundits from the business and tech communities abuzz with speculation about which will be the winning city, many are missing the real story.

Some of the cities and states that have emerged as frontrunners in the race to win Amazon's second headquarters are also promoting discriminatory social policies that stand in direct opposition to the values Bezos so eloquently extolled.

In Texas, for example, the governor recently signed a bill that allows faith-based groups working with the state's welfare system to block adoptions to LGBTQ parents. Still, Austin is a strong contender for HQ2.

And, in Georgia, four of the leading Republican candidates for governor have pledged to sign a controversial religious freedom bill, expected to come up for a vote this year, that permits vendors to reject services or employment to LGBTQ people on the basis of religious liberty. Though Democrats may oppose the bill, it still stands a chance of passing if one of these candidates wins. Nonetheless, Atlanta is a favorite for The Everything Store's second headquarters.

As a result, Amazon's HQ2 decision is an opportunity for Bezos to showcase the company's moral integrity. More than that, it marks a pivotal point in the trajectory of corporate America: Are the days of corporations chasing profits while ignoring principles truly behind us?

Over the past decade, there has been a marked shift in the role corporations play in American society. CEOs and executives used to be reticent to take a public stand on social issues.

Then came Starbucks' Howard Schultz, who publicly advocated for same-sex marriage in 2013, and Saleforce's Marc Benioff, who has more recently threatened to leave Georgia over the relentless push by local lawmakers to enact anti-LGBTQ legislation. They spearheaded a new era of corporate citizenship, wherein corporate leaders increasingly serve as arbiters of contentious moral debates.

At their best, they can tip the legislative scales in favor of certain policies. For example, when Indiana passed a religious freedom law in 2015, which, as the backers of the bill in Georgia intend to do, allows local businesses to cite their religion as a defense in denying service to LGBTQ individuals, the CEOs of Angie's List, Anthem and Eli Lilly, among others, banded together in opposition to the bill. They are believed to have played a significant role in getting the law reversed.

At their worst, corporate leaders can spawn public outrage and condemn their companies to perpetual scrutiny. Cautionary tales abound, most recently the ouster of prominent media executives who have been accused of sexual harassment. Others such as Uber have been criticized -- and their companies boycotted, in some cases -- for remaining silent on the issue of gender power dynamics in the workplace.

Amazon has heeded these lessons under the leadership of Bezos. Demonstrating its willingness to step into the trenches on social issues, Amazon fought in 2016 to stop Washington's Proposition I-1515, which would have repealed that state's non-discrimination protections based on gender identity. Joining "Washington Won't Discriminate," a broad coalition united against the proposition, the tech giant helped to defeat the bill.

Bezos can send his strongest message yet on corporate social responsibility by making the right decision on Amazon's HQ2. But he will send the wrong message if he looks past discriminatory laws that could make their way back onto the books in states like Georgia.

What's at stake here is far more important than the bottom line. Bezos has an opportunity to solidify a new course for corporate America -- a moral, principled course where profit is not procured at the expense of people.

"At Amazon," Bezos told the audience at HRC's dinner, "equality is a core value for us, and it's simply right." Now he has a chance to tell -- and show -- the country.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295295

Reported Deaths: 6724
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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