When should CEOs weigh in on political issues?
Studies have shown that consumers want companies to take a strong stand on social issues that affect them. However, the current political climate might have communicators—and top executives—wary about weighing in on especially thorny issues.
As the debate over immigration overtakes the national conversation, leaders of some tech companies are speaking out against the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies, specifically separating children from their parents, sometimes for months at a time.
Do their statements strengthen their brand reputation or risk turning off consumers?
Apple CEO Tim Cook denounced the hard-line immigration policy in an interview with the Irish Times.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids. Kids are the most vulnerable people in any society. I think that what’s happening is inhumane, it needs to stop,” Mr Cook told The Irish Times.“We’ve always felt everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. In this case, that’s not happening.”
In his interview, Cook promised to do more than just speak out:
“I’m personally a big believer in the way to be a good citizen is to participate, is to try to advocate your point of view, not to just sit on the sideline and yell or complain,” he said.“That will be the approach we will take here. This one in particular is just heartbreaking and tragic.”
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg released statements that criticized Trump’s immigration policy.
Zuckerberg called on people to donate to organizations helping families at the border:
Sandberg was more descriptive in her plea.
Internal pressure at Microsoft
Employees at Microsoft have been protesting the company’s contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency after revelations that facial recognition software can be used to target minorities.
More than 100 Microsoft employees are now calling on Microsoft to cancel its ICE contracts, create a policy to not work with clients that violate international human rights law, and commit to transparency around Microsoft government contracts. “We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE,” say the more than 100 workers in an open letter published by the New York Times. “As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit.”
Microsoft’s chief executive pushed back on those claims.
The Verge continued:
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has now responded to this growing criticism of ICE contracts in an internal memo to all employees:I want to be clear: Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border. Our current cloud engagement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads.
Microsoft President Brad Smith penned a blog post urging the administration to amend its immigration policy.
It read, in part:
As much as any business in the country – and one that generates one of the nation’s leading export surpluses – Microsoft is a company of immigrants in a nation of immigrants. A high majority of our employees grew up in the United States. Like most Americans, most of us have ancestors that came from someplace else. Microsoft also has employees who have moved here from more than 120 other countries, including lawful permanent residents, high-skilled immigrants on the path to a green card, and DREAMers. This has made Microsoft something akin to “the United Nations of Software.”As is the case for the nation, we believe the diversity of our employees is one of our greatest strengths. We appreciate, as few companies can, that a healthy immigration policy is important from a humanitarian perspective and serves as a vital engine of the nation’s economic growth.
Other tech CEOs, from Google to Airbnb, tweeted their anger:
Ripping children from their parents’ arms is cruel. This policy must end. pic.twitter.com/R2b3FXtxqU
— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) June 18, 2018
— jack (@jack) June 19, 2018
The stories and images of families being separated at the border are gut-wrenching. Urging our government to work together to find a better, more humane way that is reflective of our values as a nation. #keepfamiliestogether
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) June 19, 2018
As a father, a citizen and an immigrant myself, the stories coming from our border break my heart. Families are the backbone of society. A policy that pulls them apart rather than building them up is immoral and just plain wrong. #KeepFamiliesTogether https://t.co/g2Cu40zvcX
— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) June 19, 2018
I hope others from SF/Bay Area tech companies will join me at this march planned June 30. Please also consider donating to one of these great orgs assembled by @dahlialithwick & @mjschlanger: https://t.co/mSiMtgw9ga #FamiliesBelongTogether https://t.co/E5jXu4OSiv
— Jeremy Stoppelman (@jeremys) June 19, 2018
Twitter’s CEO asked people to share what he and other users could do to help:
Do everything it takes to #KeepFamilesTogether.
What are the highest impact ways to help?
— jack (@jack) June 19, 2018
Elon Musk was cryptic in his tweets:
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 19, 2018
Some say border security is a priority, but they condemn current policy:
Enforce the border—-but do not separate families. America’s moral and ethical leadership is at stake. This needs to be fixed now.
— Devin Wenig (@devinwenig) June 19, 2018
Others called on people to put aside partisan differences:
Regardless of your politics, it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening to families at the border. Here are some ways you can help: https://t.co/IFVG6g8AKO
— Susan Wojcicki (@SusanWojcicki) June 19, 2018
What do you think of these Silicon Valley leaders’ statements?