© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A screen shows the logo and a ticker symbol for The Walt Disney Company on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
By Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Bob Iger fired back at Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday, saying his apparent retaliation against Disney for taking a position on legislation was “anti-business.”
After initially trying to stay neutral, Disney opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act that restricts classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Soon after, DeSantis and the Florida legislature moved to eliminate the virtual autonomy the company enjoyed in the running of Walt Disney (NYSE:) World in Orlando.
Iger, answering a question at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, said Disney may not have handled its position on the bill well, but added that corporations have a right to express opinions.
He said it appeared DeSantis “decided to retaliate against us.”
“To seek to punish a company for the exercise of a constitutional right, that just seems really wrong to me,” Iger said.
He also noted that Disney employs 75,000 people in the state and will welcome 50 million visitors to Disney World this year.
“These efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida,” Iger said.
A representative for DeSantis, who is considered likely to run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier at the meeting, shareholders supported the 11 nominees to the company’s board including Iger and Chairman Mark Parker, the executive chairman of Nike (NYSE:) and its former CEO who replaces the retiring chairman, Susan Arnold at Disney.
Shareholders rejected a proposal backed by the National Legal and Policy Center that would have called for Disney to provide an annual report on its reliance on China for raw materials, finished products, theme park revenue and labor.
In a 27-page document supporting its proposal, the group accused Disney of “repeated capitulation” to the Chinese government “to retain access to Chinese audiences.”
Disney had urged shareholders to vote against the proposal, saying the company already complies with extensive reporting requirements to keep investors informed, and that the board provides regular oversight of its business.
Voters also turned down a shareholder proposal that called on Disney to provide more information about its charitable contributions. The company said it discloses its donations through Disney’s annual corporate social responsibility report, and such a measure was unnecessary.