Chobani Founder Comes Under Fire for Being a Good Person

© Brent N. Clarke/Getty Images

By Danica Lo Posted November 01, 2016

Racists and xenophobes target the yogurt-maker.

It's become impossible to ignore how the current political climate in the United States has engendered a rise in mainstream hate speech—especially when it comes to the xenophobic vilification of immigrants and refugees entering the country.

Case in point: Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani yogurt, has come under fire from hatemongers after the conservative website Breitbart published a series of stories earlier this year drawing fuzzy links between Chobani opening a factory in Twin Falls, Idaho, and a rise in tuberculosis cases in the region and sexual assault cases in the city. As a result of Breitbart's fearmongering, Shawn Barigar– the mayor of Twin Falls– and Ulukaya found themselves on the receiving end of a consumer boycott, racist epithets, and death threats.

"Hamdi Ulukaya, the Kurdish entrepreneur, born in Turkey, who founded and is the majority owner of Chobani yogurt, has publicly stated that 30 percent of his company's 2,000 employees are refugees," writes Breitbart's Michael Patrick Leahy, going on to draw a connection between immigration to Twin Falls and its growing rate of TB diagnoses. 

The internet seized on his theory. "It got woven into a narrative that it's all a cover-up, that we're all trying to keep the refugees safe so that Chobani has its workforce, that I personally am getting money from the Obama administration to help Chobani hire whomever they want, that it's part of this Islamification of the United States," Mayor Barigar told the New York Times. "It's crazy."

Ulukaya has long been a refugee advocate—in January, he spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos on the need for corporations to get involved in resettlement. "The minute a refugee has a job, that's the minute they stop being a refugee," he has said. Chobani isn't the only major American corporation aiding refugees—the Times reports that companies such as IBM and Cisco have signed on to lend a hand, helping refugees start new lives in their adopted country.

The ACLU says that Ulukaya stands out to the xenophobes as an easy target for hate because he's an immigrant himself—and a powerful CEO, at that. "Here's an immigrant who isn't competing for jobs, but is creating jobs," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the paper. "It runs completely counter to the far-right narrative."

Truth be told, the Twin Falls area has experienced an economic boom since the opening of the Chobani plant in 2012. Earlier this year, the yogurt company announced it would open a $100 million research and development center in town. "Building the largest yogurt manufacturing plant in the world and expanding it three years later is a really proud moment for us and an example of how right it was to pick Idaho as our second home," Ulukaya said in a statement. "Our success in Idaho and New York is an example of the power and strength of U.S. manufacturing. To food companies like ours, it's a signal of the momentum of the food movement that we started: better food for more people."

The Republican governor of Idaho, C.L. "Butch" Otter even enthused: "The kind of success that Chobani is experiencing in the Magic Valley is setting a great example of regional collaboration between employers and community leaders throughout Idaho. And it has economic development leaders all over America standing up and taking notice of what Idaho has to offer."

You know what they say: success is the best revenge.

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