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Tina Casey headshot

3p Weekend Round-Up: Latest Count on Companies Standing Against Racism

By Tina Casey

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

It has been a dramatic week, to say the least, as the nation recovers from the biggest white supremacist rally in decades. Instead of calming the nation, President Trump pandered to white nationalists, fueling the flames.

Finally, FINALLY the tide is turning and corporations are shifting from keeping mum to taking a stand, of one kind or another, against racism and hateful rhetoric.

Before we get into our round-up, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention those early bold actors who were not afraid to speak out before it was the popular thing to do. For example, venture capitalist Ellen K. Pao, a partner in San Francisco based Kapour Capital, did not wait for Trump's "alt-right" base to cross the bridge from online rhetoric to outright murder.

In the run-up to Election Day last fall, Pao publicly severed relations with the high-powered startup incubator YCombinator, citing its ties to the Trump campaign's advocacy of "hatred and violence."

On the other hand, better late than never. With that in mind, here's the first in what will probably be a running TriplePundit homage to business leaders who have staked out a corporate social responsibility position in support of traditional American values, namely, the equal and inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Trump CEO boycott, Wave 1: The Muslim Ban and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

In hindsight, the notorious Muslim ban in the very first days of the Trump Administration should have sent corporate America running for the exits. Hundreds of top business leaders did sign letters and statements opposing the ban, but the members of Trump's newly established advisory groups -- the American Manufacturing Council and the tech-centric Strategic and Policy Forum -- stood fast.

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was the only executive to walk the walk. In February, he resigned from the Manufacturing Council ahead of a threatened consumer boycott, explaining that joining the group "was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”

It wasn't until several months later, on June 1, that Kalanick got company.  June 1 was the day Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out of the global Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Telsa's Elon Musk decided that was the last straw. He promptly tweeted to his 11.5 million followers:

Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.
Disney CEO Bob Iger also had enough:
As a matter of principle, I've resigned from the President's Council over the withdrawal.

Disney followed up by posting a longer version of Iger's tweet:
"Protecting our planet and driving economic growth are critical to our future, and they aren't mutually exclusive. I deeply disagree with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and, as a matter of principle, I've resigned from the president's advisory council."

Wave 2: the Charlottesville exodus begins

Last weekend's violence in Charlottesville Va. was documented in chilling detail by Vice News in a documentary that aired on Monday, August 14.

The President's tepid response last Saturday struck a negative chord, and he came out with an alternative response on Monday that was better received.

However, by then the damage was done.

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier lead the charge on Monday morning. He withdrew from the Manufacturing Council stating that, "as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich wrote in a blog post Monday night announcing his decision to quit the advisory council:

I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them. We should honor – not attack – those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who was burned earlier this year by the company's own celebrity endorser, and many others, for a mild compliment he paid to Trump, quit with this blistering observation:

...I love our country and our company and will continue to focus my efforts on inspiring every person that they can do anything through the power of sport which promotes unity, diversity and inclusion.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced his withdrawal on Tuesday. He made up for the 24-hour time lag with a forceful statement personally calling out Trump. On Tuesday evening he tweeted:
I cannot sit on a council for a President that tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism; I resign, effective immediately.

Strongly-worded internal memos also later surfaced from Microsoft's Satya Nadella and Walmart's Doug McMillon to their employees on Monday in reaction to the events in Charlottesville, but as of Tuesday only a handful of CEOs had actually quit either of Trump's councils.

Wave 3: the pot boils over

Trumka's response was a harbinger of things to come. On Wednesday, Trump followed up a press conference on infrastructure with a series of incendiary off-the-cuff remarks  in which he walked back his Monday remarks and defended the white nationalist marchers in Charlottesville.

By the end of the day the entire body of both councils quit, effectively making the boycott a 100 percent action. Trump had earlier claimed that he could replace the missing members, but the overwhelming response could not be ignored. Before the councils had a chance to make a formal announcement, Trump announced that he was disbanding them.

That afternoon, BuzzfeedNews assembled statements from some of the boycotters. Following are snippets -- do read the article for full statements.

GE Chairman Jeff Immelt:

"The President’s statements yesterday were deeply troubling. There would be no GE without people of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations. GE has no tolerance for hate, bigotry, racism, and the white supremacist extremism that the country witnessed in Charlottesville last weekend."
United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes:
...as the events of the last week have unfolded here in the U.S., it is clear that we need to collectively stand together and denounce the politics of hate, intolerance and racism. The values that are the cornerstone of our culture: tolerance, diversity, empathy and trust, must be affirmed by our actions every day.
3M CEO Inge Thulin:
"Sustainability, diversity and inclusion are my personal values and also fundamental to the 3M Vision. The past few months have provided me with an opportunity to reflect upon my commitment to these values.

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky:

The President's most recent statements equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred is unacceptable...
Campbell Soup Company CEO Denise Morrison:
Racism and murder are unequivocably reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville...
Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul:
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.

By Thursday, Fortune Magazine added more names to the rapidly growing list (again, read the article for more detail):

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi:

Heartbroken by the violence in . Hate and intolerance are a betrayal of what we stand for as Americans.

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon:
"...There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned and has no place in a country that draws strength from our diversity and humanity."

IBM CEO Gimmi Rometty:

The despicable conduct of hate groups in Charlottesville last weekend, and the violence and death that resulted from it, shows yet again that our nation needs to focus on unity, inclusion, and tolerance.

GM CEO Mary Barra:

Recent events, particularly those in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its aftermath, require that we come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us - tolerance, inclusion and diversity – and speak against those which divide us – racism, bigotry and any politics based on ethnicity.

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky:

...I believe, very strongly, that hatred and bigotry of any kind have no place in our society.

Peebles Corporation's Don Peebles:

When it comes to racism and anti-Semitism and fairness, you can't walk a gray line.

Dow CEO Andrew Liveris summed it all up:

Every member of the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative condemns racism and bigotry, and there cannot be moral ambiguity around the driving forces of the events in Charlottesville.

Annie's Homegrown (Owned by General Mills) CEO John Foraker was done with the typical CEO speak that requires beating around the bush:

Silicon Valley steps up -- to shut down hate rhetoric

Regardless of whether or not they were Trump advisors, top dot-com execs have emerged among the president's strongest critics, and they are in a position to fill the leadership gap left by Trump -- with action, not just words.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was among them, as reported by BuzzFeed:

I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.

In a lengthy memo, Cook pledged contributions of $1 million each to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Apple is also matching employee donations, and it is setting up an iTunes channel for the public to join in contributing.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg had this to say (in a Facebook post, of course):

It's a disgrace that we still need to say that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are wrong -- as if this is somehow not obvious.

He also pledged to double down on efforts to keep hate groups out of the site:

...With the potential for more rallies, we're watching the situation closely and will take down threats of physical harm. We won't always be perfect, but you have my commitment that we'll keep working to make Facebook a place where everyone can feel safe.

Other dot-coms have also taken action. CNBC provides this rundown:

Ahead of the rally, Airbnb barred housing rentals to people it believed were traveling to participate. Before and after Charlottesville, PayPal cut off payments to groups that promote hate and violence. GoDaddy and Google yanked the domain name for Daily Stormer following the rally. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are removing known hate groups from their services, and the music streaming service Spotify dropped what it considers hate bands.

The web services provider CloudFlare has been slow to react, but apparently it is also gearing up:

“Cloudflare is aware of the concerns that have been raised over some sites that have used our network. We find the content on some of these sites repugnant. While our policy is to not comment on any user specifically, we are cooperating with law enforcement in any investigation.”

Tech Crunch also reports that Sendgrid and Zoho are among the other service providers clamping down on access by Daily Stormer and other hate groups.

Trump losing friends, fast

Nonprofits are also beginning to bail on Trump, and his Mar-a-Lago venue is taking the heat. The American Cancer Society, the Cleveland Clinic and the Israeli Red Cross (AFDMA) are reportedly pulling out of events scheduled for next year, and there are probably more on the way.

Even Trump's friends over at Fox News have been wavering. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted the contents of a personal email from James Murdoch, chairman of Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox, which collectively conveyed this message:

What we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people. These events remind us all why vigilance against hate and bigotry is an eternal obligation - a necessary discipline for the preservation of our way of life and our ideals. I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists.

Now that it has become clear that hate does not boost the bottom line, we expect more companies will be making the decision to publicly distance themselves from the Trump administration. It's about time!

Photo: by Gage Skidmore/flickr, creative commons license.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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