It could be said that Chobani greek yogurt is the popular kid of the supermarket dairy aisle. Earlier this year, we told you about the CEO of the billion dollar company Hamdi Ulukaya’s plan to give his full-time employees ownership stake in the company when it goes public. It was an unheard gesture of generosity for a CEO, and a great way of giving back to the country that gave him so much, by ensuring its workers were rewarded for Chobani’s success.
Awesome gesture by an awesome American company and everybody’s happy, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case as several right wing websites have launched a campaign to drag Ulukaya’s name through the mud, accusing him of trying to “choke” Iowa with a flood of immigrant refugees. To give you a little backstory on Chobani, the company’s success is the blueprint model for the American immigrant success story.
Turkish-born Hamdi Ulukaya started Chobani in an old Kraft foods plant in upstate New York in 2005, with a $800k loan from the Small Business Association. Fast-forward a few years, and the company is now worth over a billion dollars and has built up a reputation for treating its employees like the valued workers they are. All employees earn above minimum wage, and Ulukaya’s move to give his employees a stake in the company as well as efforts to hire refugees from all over the world – about 30% of Chobani’s workforce – have led to the CEO being named World Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young. Part of Ulukaya’s efforts to help those looking to start a new life, just like he did, is the founding of his organization Tent which assist refugees in starting over. The company demonstrated its commitment to lending a helping hand in more ways than one and just last month, handed out some 6,000 cases of yogurt to victims of the Louisiana flooding.
It’s Chobani’s efforts to help immigrants attempting to escape war-torn countries that has right wing xenophobes up in arms. Chobani opened its second plant in Twin Falls, Idaho in 2012, employing residents from Twin Falls as well as Boise. Idaho is currently one of the largest refugee-absorbing states because of its low cost of living, having taken in around 30,000 refugees since the 1970s. The Twin Falls plant currently employees around 600 workers, with around 30% being refugees. Ulukaya’s stance on urging the corporate sector to step up and take an active role in the global migration crisis has websites like Breitbart and World Net Daily accusing him of “looking out for his own” and turning Twin Falls into a hotbed of rape and disease.
In a piece by World Net Daily, the online publication attacks Ulukaya as a “globalist corporatist,” accusing him of hiring refugees merely as a way of getting cheap labor in an effort to avoid hiring white American workers. It should be noted that Boise Mayor David Bieter and Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter don’t see it that way at all, and have been supportive of Chobani’s boost on Idaho’s image. When the company made its announcement of the new plant in Twin Falls, the news was met with praise by Otter who commented “It has economic development leaders all over America standing up and taking notice of what Idaho has to offer.”
Chobani came under attack again with Brietbart placing blame on the company for a spike in tuberculosis cases in the Twin Falls area between 2011 and 2012. While the right wing publication attempted to point the blame to the refugee population, The Daily Beast refuted those claims, pointing to the fact that the increase occurred across an eight county region and the “spike” consisted of “one case in 2011 to six in 2012, back down to a single case last year.”
Perhaps the most blatant of bogus accusations against Chobani’s hiring of immigrants in Idaho involves a Breitbart “special report” that mislabels a case of inappropriate sexual behavior between three refugee minors and a Twin Falls girl as “gang rape.” The incident was seized upon by anti-Muslim activists such as Trump-supporting white nationalist organization American Freedom Party, who robocalls across Idaho informing listeners of a “white genocide” brought on by influx of immigrants. The gang rape accusation was later declared to be false by authorities and simply a ploy to “incite anti-refugee sentiments.”
Regardless of the fact that the opening of Chobani’s Idaho plant gave the area a much needed “shot in the arm” or Ulukaya’s numerous examples of demonstrating the highest standards of compassion in business, there are still those trying to bring a good man down. The efforts to drag his name and company through the mud speak volumes about the current state of fear and prejudice embraced by a sector of the political right.