At Altria, we have a long history of engaging in public policy issues central to our business – primarily advancing Tobacco Harm Reduction and Preventing Underage Use. But responsibility is a journey, not a destination, and employees, consumers and investors increasingly expect companies to use their influence to address issues beyond what was once considered "core" to the business.
Guided by our Vision, Responsibility Focus Areas and our Cultural Aspiration, Altria has engaged on several issues important to our employees, consumers, investors and communities – including the environment, LGBTQ+ equality, racial equity and COVID-19.
We recognize that business engagement in broader issues is complicated. Stakeholders – both internal and external – often have conflicting positions about the right issues to engage in, and the right solutions. We know this debate doesn’t end at Altria’s four walls, and we are not experts on every issue and don't have all the answers. When we engage, we therefore seek an approach that is bipartisan, transparent, and in which we can be a credible and effective voice.
The 2020 election was highly contentious and was conducted during a global pandemic that necessitated many emergency voting measures. Many states are now debating their election laws for the longer-term. We believe voting is a foundational democratic process and should be a non-partisan issue. All eligible individuals should have their voices heard at the ballot box.
Altria has long supported efforts to encourage employees and adult tobacco consumers to vote. Equally important, we have a track record of supporting non-profit organizations that encourage engagement in the democratic process. Most recently, as part of our commitment to address systemic racism faced by Black Americans and advance social and economic equity, we made a grant to the National Urban League's Equity, Justice and Democracy Initiative, which supports civic action and participation, including voter education and registration initiatives.
While the right to vote is foundational to our democracy, it is a right, which for much of our history, was denied to millions of Americans. As a country, we have a long history of sustained efforts to deny the legal right to vote to Black Americans and others, including Latinos, Native Americans and immigrants of Asian descent. It is in this context and with this history that we articulate the following principles, which are central to what we believe about any voting:
- The right to vote should be protected and promoted.
- Every registered voter should have a reasonable opportunity to participate in the electoral process.
- Legislation impacting voting rights should advance principles of equality, fairness, and transparency, and should encourage more, not fewer, eligible voters to register and vote.
- Requirements governing how the right to vote is exercised should not place undue burdens or unnecessary restrictions on voters.
- Legislation should promote confidence in our electoral system while at the same time ensuring the integrity and fairness of the election process.
- Legislation altering election practices should not be designed to benefit one political party over others, and such changes should be adopted on a bipartisan basis after comprehensive analysis and open debate.
Guided by our history and our principles, we will:
- Continue to promote bipartisan solutions by continued engagement, support and sponsorship for organizations which support civic action and participation, in-line with our principles;
- Proactively share our principles with key policy makers and other stakeholders;
- Actively monitor the numerous legislative proposals across the country related to voting. While we cannot take a position on every bill in every state, in areas where we have significant operations, and a significant number of employees, and where we can have a meaningful impact, we will determine how we could engage to share our perspective;
- Encourage employees and adult consumers to vote through voter education, providing access to voter registration materials, and information about absentee voting; and
- Continue to listen and learn from others to understand how else we might engage on this issue.
It’s through ongoing, respectful debate and dialogue that we continue to advance as an organization. Our pledge is to keep listening and understanding all of our stakeholders' expectations as we continue this journey together.