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Major U.S. companies were faced with a sensitive dilemma when the Trump administration on Jan. 27 issued its executive order temporarily curbing travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and indefinitely banning Syrian refugees. The question was whether to speak out about the issue. Some of the largest U.S. companies did speak out. They took varying approaches and some did a good job of carefully wording their responses.
The question of whether to comment was fraught. On the liability side: The danger of upsetting the administration or, worse yet, becoming the target of one of President Trump’s Twitter rages. On the positive side: Many companies’ business is global and they are especially desperate to tap talent from around the world, in addition to having facilities and customers globally. In other words, the ban could affect the one thing CEOs really care about: profits.
As to the question of inviting blowback, some companies dealt with that by not targeting, or even mentioning, the president himself. They focused on the importance of immigration to their mission — often lauding America’s immigration history.
Others were more strident.
It appears that Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, was first out of the gate. In fact, technology companies dominated those that spoke out publicly on the issue. They hire people from around the world and the leaders of many U.S.-based tech companies are immigrants.
Zuckerberg’s Jan. 27 statement was quite forceful, starting with the immigrant history of his and his wife’s families. “We need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat,” he wrote. Zuckerberg (pictured) mentioned Trump, but was careful to praise him, specifically for the president’s promise to carve out a solution for “Dreamers” (undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children by their parents).
Reed Hastings of Netflix mentioned Trump in a more negative context. “Trump’s actions are hurting Netflix employees around the world, and are so un-American it pains us all,” he wrote on Facebook. “Worse, these actions will make America less safe (through hatred and loss of allies) rather than more safe.”
‘Ban Is Wrong’
Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, was also strident in his series of tweets on Jan. 28. “On every level -moral, humanitarian, economic, logical, etc.- this ban is wrong and is completely antithetical to the principles of America,” he wrote.
The travel ban is particularly sensitive for retail and consumer companies because they are so easily boycotted. In fact, Trump supporters have called for a boycott of Starbucks because, in the wake of the order, the coffee chain committed to hiring 10,000 refugees (some years ago, it made a similar pledge regarding veterans).
Perhaps the boycott worry was one reason Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent didn’t release a statement until Monday, Jan. 30. But his was among the most forthright in emphasizing the connection between the executive order and the company’s global business: “The Coca-Cola Company is resolute in its commitment to diversity, fairness and inclusion, and we do not support this travel ban or any policy that is contrary to our core values and beliefs. As a U.S. company that has operations in more than 200 countries and territories, we respect people from all backgrounds and greatly value the diversity of our global system’s more than 700,000 associates.”
Uber had a special communications challenge related to the executive order. When protestors gathered at JFK Airport in New York to rally against the measure, taxi drivers (many of whom are Muslim) in solidarity stopped taking airport fares for an hour. Uber said it would turn off its surge pricing — which was criticized as equivalent to crossing a picket line to fill its pockets; the hashtag #DeleteUber was trending.
The company scrambled to get back on its feet. CEO Travis Kalanick issued a statement on Jan. 28 that mildly criticized the ban and that promised to compensate Uber drivers affected by it. The next day he sent a separate message to drivers. Then on Jan. 29 the company apologized for the confusion over its communications regarding the JFK situation and denied it was trying to break the strike.
All in all, it’s clear these companies viewed responding to the executive order as a type of crisis that they took very seriously.
— Thom Weidlich
Photo Credit: Facebook
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