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Apple, Google and Facebook condemn Trump’s travel ban

The world’s largest technology companies condemned Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration after coming under pressure to speak out from employees.

Leaders of companies including Apple, Google and Facebook sent emails to their workforces attacking the move to block refugees and entry to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries. 

Tim Cook, Apple chief executive, said the company had told the White House the company did not support the policy. Mr Cook said “Apple would not exist without immigration”. The biological father of Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, was a Syrian immigrant.

Tech companies say that Mr Trump’s immigration policies are already undercutting their ability to recruit and retain engineering talent from overseas. Amit Kumar, chief executive of software company Trimian, told the Financial Times that many start-ups were increasing the size of their branch offices outside the US as a result.

“The shift was immediate, it was dramatic. People are thinking what is the right country to base their operations in,” Mr Kumar said. “I see that across the board.”

The technology industry does not get huge numbers of employees from the seven countries cited in Mr Trump’s executive order, with Google saying less than 200 of its 60,000 workers are affected. But the industry is preparing for a broader battle on highly skilled immigration: Mr Trump has criticised the H-1B visa, which many large tech companies use to bring in thousands of software engineers from countries such as India.

Apple would not exist without immigration

And after the tech industry led corporate America on campaigns such as LGBT rights — helping to see off the threat of restrictive legislation in Indiana, for example — many employees expect their leaders to engage in public fights about what they believe is right.

Some chief executives spoke out strongly on social media against the ban, with Netflix chief Reed Hastings saying it was “un-American”. Twitter leader Jack Dorsey said it was “real and upsetting” while Slack chief executive Stewart Butterfield wrote that almost every one of President Trump’s actions was “gratuitously . . . evil”. 

Even leaders who agreed to serve as advisers to the president spoke out, with Travis Kalanick, chief executive of Uber, insisting he would raise the issue at a meeting of the business advisory group next week.

Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, said many people affected by the ban were “strong supporters of the US. They’ve done right, not wrong and don’t deserve to be rejected,” he tweeted. 

Others, like Google, prepared plans to help employees from the seven countries affected who may be stranded abroad. Uber said it would give financial support to its drivers who were stuck outside the US. Airbnb said it would provide free housing to refugees while Brian Chesky, its chief executive, tweeted that anyone barred from staying in the US should contact him personally with urgent requests. 

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey described the immigration order as ‘real and upsetting’ © AFP

Silicon Valley’s stance was in contrast to that of the broader US business community, which has for the most part remained quiet on Mr Trump’s executive order. One exception was Howard Schultz, the Starbucks executive chairman, who put out a statement in which he warned that civility and human rights were “under attack”.

“We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American dream, being called into question,” he said.

When tech companies remained quiet after Mr Trump was elected — with many executives meeting with him and his transition team — some employees feared they would prioritise policies beneficial to their businesses over advocating for Silicon Valley’s liberal values. 

Sam Altman, who leads the influential start-up incubator Y Combinator, wrote on Saturday that it was time for the industry to take a stand against Mr Trump. He called on employees to push their companies to go beyond words to actions and said his company was organising a meeting this week to discuss what it could do. 

“Tech companies go to extraordinary lengths to recruit and retain employees; those employees have a lot of leverage. If employees push companies to do something, I believe they’ll have to,” he wrote in a widely shared blog post. 

Anil Dash, chief executive of Fog Creek, called on tech employees to tell their bosses that the president should rescind his “immoral and unconstitutional immigration policy”. He tweeted that they should demand of executives who met with the president: “Our company statement should be as visible and clear as your appearance at Trump Tower.” 

Uber employees faced protesters unfurling banners labelling the company as a “collaborator” outside their building on the morning of President Trump’s inauguration, criticising Mr Kalanick for serving on his economic advisory group. Twitter was accused of being a platform for fascism because of President Trump’s prolific tweeting. Employees leaving work last Thursday evening had to walk past activists projecting “Would Twitter ban Hitler?” on the side of their office. 

Aaron Levie, chief executive of Box, said his employees had been talking to him about their concerns about President Trump’s actions. 

“Our talent base has 1,500 employees. People come from all around the world to work with us and on our mission. [They are] from different backgrounds, many of [them] are Muslims, some of which come from countries where they are now temporarily or indefinitely banned,” he said.

Mr Levie said he was optimistic that other US companies would follow the lead of the technology chief executives. “What is happening on Saturday morning in Silicon Valley will be pretty pervasive throughout corporate America by Monday,” he said. 

Jeff Lawson, chief executive of Twilio, a New York-listed cloud company, encouraged other leaders to “consider the cost of silence”. “As a tech leader and public CEO, I’m often advised to stay apolitical. But this isn’t politics; I believe this is a matter of objective right and wrong. Staying silent doesn’t feel like leadership to me,” he wrote. 

But Tommy Vietor, a former spokesperson for President Barack Obama and the founder of Crooked Media, questioned whether the chief executives really intended to attack Mr Trump. “Four years of statements designed to appease a liberal workforce while not upsetting the Trump admin is not a good look for Silicon Valley,” he tweeted.

Via FT