Billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, generated controversy during the 2016 presidential election for hiring refugees at one of his factories in Idaho. Now, the Greek yogurt mogul has defended his hiring practices as a compassionate way to address the global migrant crisis (video below).
Ulukaya, who fled his native Turkey after his support for the Kurds ran afoul of local authorities, moved to the U.S. in 1994 on a student visa and virtually no money to his name. Now, he is a U.S. citizen who has made a fortune after establishing Chobani.
An immigrant success story, he has paid it forward by hiring refugees at plants in both upstate New York and in Twin Falls, Idaho. The yogurt mogul has even hired translators to help his workforce communicate with each other.
During the election season, Ulukaya was criticized by conservative media for his hiring practices. World Net Daily claimed in a headline that the CEO was attempting to "Choke U.S. With Muslims."
A series of articles on Breitbart News accused Ulukaya of importing Muslim refugees into Idaho and claimed that his workers were bringing crime and tuberculosis to the local area. The media attention drew calls for boycotts against Chobani and death threats to its CEO.
Democratic Mayor Shawn Barigar of Twin Falls also received negative scrutiny, receiving his own share of death threats.
"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 work force, that I personally am getting money from the Obama administration to help Chobani hire whoever they want, that's part of this Islamification of the United States," Barigar told The New York Times. "It's crazy."
It is important to note that Ulukaya hired refugees who had already been resettled in Twin Falls. Refugees only make up 30 percent of his employees in both the New York and Idaho factories.
On April 9, Ulukaya sat down with "60 Minutes" to discuss why he wanted to hire the refugees.
"They got here legally," Ulukaya noted. "They've gone through a most dangerous journey. They lost their family members. They lost everything they have. And here they are. They are either going to be a part of society or they are going to lose it again. The number one thing that you can do is provide them jobs."
The Chobani founder concluded that when a refugee finds employment, "that's the minute they stop being a refugee."
Addressing the death threats he had received and calls for boycotts against his products, Ulukaya recalled that the negative attention had taken an emotional toll.
"People, you know, hate you for something right," Ulukaya said. "I mean, what can you do about that? There's not much you can do."
The billionaire has the support of Republican Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho, whose state has generated $2 billion per year from the Twin Falls plant.
"I think his care about his employees, whether they be refugees or they be folks that were born 10 miles from where they're working -- I believe his advocacy for that person is no different," Butcher said. "And there's nothing wrong with that."
Breitbart editor in chief, Alex Marlow, has meanwhile defended his website’s coverage of Ulukaya, asserting that his outlet scrutinizes the refugee crisis' impact on the U.S and that Ulukaya "hasn't merely involved himself in this issue, he's been one of the leaders in expanding refugee resettlement in the United States."
In addition to hiring refugees, Ulukaya has given 10 percent of Chobani's shares to his workforce along with full benefits. He has pledged to give away the majority of his fortune to charitable causes by the end of his life.
In January 2016, Ulukaya penned an editorial in the World Economic Forum urging the private sector "to step up and help use its innovation, voice, and resources to address the global forced migration crisis... Creating new livelihoods for refugees, the displaced, and their surrounding communities is essential to give a sense of hope and positive momentum."