The tech industry is far from perfect when it comes to issues like economic and social justice.
Silicon Valley has long been accused of abusing the H1B visa process to bring in cheaper foreign engineers and programmers. It has benefited enthusiastically from cheaper manufacturing in China. Many of the biggest companies continue with questionable tax practices. And everyone from Apple to startups to venture capital firms struggle with issues of racial and gender diversity.
But this past weekend, the tech industry offered an overwhelming response to the executive order issued by President Trump banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. For all of Silicon Valley’s sins, the response from the tech industry is notable for its combination of strong statements and actions, and contrasts with the deafening silence from almost ever other major corporate sector in the U.S.
Of course, the tech industry largely denounced and worked against Trump in the election last year, with the notable exception of Peter Thiel. So it’s hard to say whether this push will make a difference to a president who is known to nurse grudges. In any case, whatever modest goodwill may have been created at the infamous breakfast meetup between Trump and tech leaders a few weeks ago seems to have been short-lived.
Over the past weekend:
- Uber, facing a #deleteUBER campaign on Twitter for founder Travis Kalanick’s role on Trump’s business advisory council, said it would create a $3 million defense fund for its immigrant drivers.
- Airbnb said it would offer free housing to any immigrant affected by the ban.
- LinkedIn announced it would launch its job service for refugees in the U.S.
- Lyft will donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.
- A number of other tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Netflix and Google offered statements and internal memos that range from tepid to strong in their opposition. That list continued to grow over the weekend, according to Recode.
Today, Google committed up to $4 million to help those affected by Trump’s immigration order. And over the weekend, Google cofounder Sergey Brin joined protestors at San Francisco Airport:
Google cofounder Sergey Brin at SFO protest: "I'm here because I'm a refugee." (Photo from Matt Kang/Forbes) pic.twitter.com/GwhsSwDPLT
— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) January 29, 2017
Tesla cofounder Elon Musk, who has also drawn heat for joining Trump’s business council, offered to take the tech industry’s concerns to the president:
Please read immigration order. Lmk specific amendments. Will seek advisory council consensus & present to President. https://t.co/qLpbsP4lEk
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 29, 2017
Now the tech response has gone global. Today, German’s SAP issued a memo reassuring its staff and criticizing Trump. In addition, chief executive Bill McDermott wrote to SAP’s global workforce that “we are always in your corner,” according to Reuters.
Further east, Rakuten’s CEO Hiroshi Mikitan took to Twitter to express his disappointment and said the company’s Viber would offer free calls from the U.S. to the seven countries affected by the ban.
Again, tech has its own sins. But it seems to have found its voice on this issue. Now we’ll see whether this response is sustained and how far these companies are willing to go when the inevitable criticism from Trump arrives.