We creatives are generally a liberal bunch – so it was no surprise that many designers and artists have been vocally opposing US president Donald Trump’s xenophobic executive order blocking all refugees and any national from seven nations (including those with dual nationality) from coming to the country. This has followed outrage over orders aiming to begin the repeal of the ‘Obamacare’ healthcare system, reinstating the ‘global gag rule’ and kickstarting the hugely expensive folly of a wall between the US and Mexico.
Trump’s travel ban – which has also been described as a ‘Muslim ban’ – has also lead to protests in major US airports, criticism from other world leaders (including, finally, our own) and a formal petition asking for Trump’s invitation for state visit to the UK later this year to be rescinded that has just passed one million British signatures.
Unusually, many of companies creating the tools we use every day have also expressed opinions on the travel ban. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen wrote to employees saying "As an immigrant, US citizen and CEO, I am deeply concerned” (his letter was posted publicly by Adobe here). Autodesk president and CEO Carl Bass wrote on Medium that "we do not support President Trump’s stance on immigration.”
Both emphasised the companies’ commitment to diversity, but were restrained in their language regarding the US president and his actions. Adobe’s Shantanu didn’t mention Trump by name, and both focussed on the positive contribution that immigration has made to their companies rather than the harm that the executive action will do to those affected by it – and to America’s standing in the world.
Harsh words from Slack
Other companies have been more direct in their criticism or promised action. Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield posted a series of tweets describing Trump’s actions at “gratuitously evil”. After initially giving weak criticism, Microsoft yesterday said that it was a "misguided and a fundamental step backwards”. Apple’s Tim Cook used similar wording to Autodesk’s Carl about not supporting the policy – but has contacted the White House directly about the issue."
A phrasing around 'not supporting this policy' in Apple's and Autodesk’s statements is also problematic – as by highlighting their opposition to this one action, they leave themselves open to accusations of implicitly supporting (or at least not having a problem with) Trump’s other harmful actions.
All of these companies can also be accused of self-interest here. Some of that is compassionate, as many of these companies have employees that will be affected by the ban, and it’s important that they stand up for them. But it’s telling that Autodesk’s Carl says "Simply, immigration is important for our business”.
These companies aren’t just looking at the current travel ban, but at the Trump administration’s overall approach to immigration – and specifically how potential future changes to the H-1B visa might affect their ability to recruit from overseas. They fear Trump’s focus on “American jobs” might make it more difficult to hire top talent – especially in high-tech areas such as machine learning – as they believe many of those people are found outside the US.
So perhaps if these companies want their words on this matter to be taken seriously, they should speak out against Trump on ethical subjects that don’t just affect their bottom line.