Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick has quit President Donald Trump’s business advisory council on the eve of its first meeting, after mounting criticism from passengers and drivers angry over the president’s immigration order.
The move will raise the stakes for other executives on the council, including leaders from Blackstone, IBM, GE, GM, Disney, Pepsi and Tesla. Several have already voiced concerns about the travel ban but none has been as critical as Uber, which said the order was “unfair, wrong and against everything we stand for as a company”.
Uber has been grappling with a social media campaign that went viral over the weekend urging users to #deleteUber as a way to protest against Mr Trump’s immigration order and Mr Kalanick’s role on the advisory council.
The company had so many deletion requests it had to write new software last weekend to accommodate the account cancellations. In an effort to stem the flow, it displayed a message to users explaining that the company opposed the ban.
Uber drivers, many of whom are immigrants, had also urged Mr Kalanick to step down from Mr Trump’s council. Nearly 90 per cent of Uber drivers in New York say their friends and families are directly affected by the ban, according to a recent survey in New York by the Independent Drivers Guild.
Mr Trump’s executive order on immigration, which was signed last Friday, imposes a ban on travellers to the US from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
Mr Kalanick said he spoke with Mr Trump on Thursday and told him about the issues that the order raised for Uber drivers and riders, and informed him of his resignation, according to an email Mr Kalanick sent to employees that was obtained by the FT.
“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” wrote Mr Kalanick in the email. “Immigration and openness to refugees is an important part of our country’s success and quite honestly to Uber’s,” he added.
Mr Kalanick pointed to two of his deputies — chief technology officer Thuan Pham and senior vice-president Emil Michael — who both came to the US as refugees.
The Uber chief executive had previously stood firm against calls for him to quit the council, which came both from within and outside Uber, saying he would use the position to “stand up for what’s right”.
On the day after the executive order was signed, Mr Kalanick said he was concerned by it but planned to remain on the council. “But whatever your view please know that I’ve always believed in principled confrontation and just change; and have never shied away (maybe to my detriment) from fighting for what’s right,” he wrote.
However, the situation appeared to have changed for Uber after the #deleteUber campaign continued to spread, a shift that pushed competitor Lyft into the top of the app download tables earlier this week.
The campaign was fuelled by the perception that Uber had tried to break up an anti-Trump strike at JFK airport in New York by lowering prices. The allegation was subsequently shown to be inaccurate because Uber’s price did not kick in until after the strike had ended, but the #deleteUber campaign continued to rage.
Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX and a member of the business council, has also said he is concerned about the immigration order and earlier this week took to Twitter to ask his followers to suggest “amendments”. A handful of Tesla customers have reportedly cancelled orders for new cars because of Mr Musk’s association with the president.
Mr Musk defended his decision to remain on the business council. “In tomorrow’s meeting, I and others will express our objections to the recent executive order on immigration,” he said in a statement late on Thursday. “Attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the administration.”
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