Trump travel ban stirs faint corporate outcry beyond Silicon Valley

  • TECH
  • Wednesday, 01 Feb 2017

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump sits with PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel, Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook, Oracle CEO Safra Catz and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk during a meeting with technology leaders at Trump Tower in New York U.S., December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton - RTX2V2DE

NEW YORK/BOSTON: Most US corporate bosses have stayed silent on President Donald Trump's immigration curbs, underscoring the sensitivities around opposing policies that could provoke a backlash from the White House. 

While the leaders of Apple Inc, Google and Facebook Inc e-mailed their staff to denounce the suspension of the US refugee programme and the halting of arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries, many of their counterparts in other industries either declined comment or responded with company statements reiterating their commitment to diversity. 

The difference in response shows the pressure large swathes of corporate America faces to avoid tussling publicly with the new administration. 

Companies such as aircraft maker Boeing Co and automakers Ford Motor Co and General Motors Co have already had run-ins with Trump over other issues, and they have much at stake in policy decisions that the administration will make on tax, trade and regulatory matters. 

Before office, Trump attacked Boeing over the cost of the future Air Force One programme. Boeing chief executive officer Dennis Muilenburg met with him earlier this month and said he and Trump had made progress on the Air Force One issue and the potential sale of fighter aircraft. 

Representatives from Boeing, General Motors and Ford declined to comment on Trump's immigration curbs. 

Wall Street, meanwhile, is hoping the new administration will ease some of the regulations introduced in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis and adopt a lighter touch in their enforcement. 

Industries including banking, healthcare and auto manufacturing “see themselves on the cusp of a new era of deregulation, and they do not want to do anything that would offend the new emperor,” said Cornelius Hurley, director of Boston University’s Centre for Finance, Law & Policy. 

So far, Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is the only major US bank boss to speak out directly against the executive order. 

"This is not a policy we support," Blankfein said in a message sent to staff on Sunday evening. "Being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be." 

Representatives of Citigroup Inc, Bank of America Corp and Morgan Stanley declined to comment on Trump's immigration order. 

Wells Fargo & Co said in a statement that it was reviewing the executive order and its implications for staff and its business. 

JPMorgan Chase & Co's Operating Committee, which includes CEO Jamie Dimon, sent a note to staff saying it was reaching out to all employees affected and noted that the country was, “strengthened by the rich diversity of the world around us.” 

To be sure, some CEOs were more outspoken. 

Nike Inc CEO Mark Parker said the company did not support the executive order. 

"Nike believes in a world where everyone celebrates the power of diversity," he said in a statement. "Those values are being threatened by the recent executive order in the US banning refugees, as well as visitors, from seven Muslim-majority countries." 

Brent Saunders, CEO of US drugmaker Allergan Plc, tweeted: "Oppose any policy that puts limitations on our ability to attract the best & diverse talent." 

But many boardrooms kept quiet. Representatives for some energy companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp, for example, declined to comment. 

Good corporate citizens 

As the idea of corporate social responsibility has taken root, so companies have increasingly championed a range of causes, including gay rights, diverse workplaces and a global view. 

Many in corporate America are still trying to work out how to deal with a new government that takes a more conservative stance on some social issues and has an anti-globalisation platform. 

Those non-tech companies that did issue statements over the weekend tended to emphasise their role as good corporate citizens rather than openly criticise Trump's policies. 

Starbucks Corp CEO Howard Schultz has put the coffee chain in the national spotlight before, asking customers not to bring guns into stores and urging conversations on race relations. 

In a letter to employees, he said Starbucks was developing plans to hire 10,000 refugees over five years across dozens of countries, but he did not directly criticise Trump's order. 

“I am hearing the alarm you all are sounding that the civility and human rights we have all taken for granted for so long are under attack,” he wrote. 

In his statement, General Electric Co CEO Jeff Immelt told staff that the company would engage with the US government. 

"We will continue to make our voice heard with the new administration and Congress, and reiterate the importance of this issue to GE and to the business community overall," he wrote. 

One of the most immediate ways for corporate bosses to communicate with Trump about the immigration order will be the first meeting of his advisory panel of business leaders next week. 

Of the 19 leaders on that panel, only two, Elon Musk, who founded Tesla Motors Inc and SpaceX, and Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber Technologies Inc, have spoken out against Trump's immigration curbs. 

A spokeswoman for Stephen Schwarzman, the billionaire chief executive of Blackstone Group LP whom Trump tasked to set up and chair the panel, declined to comment. — Reuters

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