Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has come out against a White House entry ban on citizens from several Muslim countries, joining a widespread pushback that signals how U.S. corporations are taking on an unprecedentedly active role in a politically charged environment.
Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has come out against a controversial White House entry ban on citizens from several Muslim countries, joining a widespread pushback that signals how U.S. corporations are taking on an unprecedentedly active role in a politically charged environment.
“This executive order is one we do not support,” Bezos wrote in an email to staffers. “Our public policy team in D.C. has reached out to senior administration officials to make our opposition clear. We’ve also reached out to congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to explore legislative options.”
In addition, the company is backing a lawsuit brought Monday by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson against the executive order signed Friday by President Trump. Amazon is “working other legal options as well,” Bezos wrote.
“We’re a nation of immigrants whose diverse backgrounds, ideas and points of view have helped us build and invent as a nation for over 240 years. No nation is better at harnessing the energies and talents of immigrants. It’s a distinctive competitive advantage for our country — one we should not weaken,” Bezos wrote.
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Bezos’ declaration, which follows a more cautious, businesslike email sent Saturday by a top Amazon human-resources executive, shows how U.S. companies are becoming key players in a red-hot political battlefield.
By conviction or need, these companies are taking on unexpectedly vocal positions as the Trump administration issues new, sometimes surprising rules.
The phenomenon is particularly acute in Silicon Valley and tech hubs like the Seattle area, where a certain type of swashbuckling idealism is part of corporate mythology.
It’s further stoked by policy interests that seem at odds with tenets of the new administration’s nationalistic worldview, by a liberal or libertarian-leaning workforce reinforced with thousands of high-skilled immigrants, and by customers’ growing polarization.
While corporate political activism has been slowly building up, “it was during the last election cycle that it reached another gear,” said Daniel Korschun, a business professor at Drexel University who closely tracks corporate positioning on political issues.
“The election created such a polarized atmosphere that many executives felt they had to speak on either side,” Korschun said, adding that tech executives were “by far the most outspoken.”
Of course, that doesn’t come without risk.
Amazon’s sprawling operations interact with government policy or agencies in various fields — from air regulations (Amazon wants to fly drones) to cloud computing (for which the government is a big client).
In the case of Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, he was singled out by Trump during the campaign.
Before Monday’s comments, Bezos had kept a relatively low profile, congratulating Trump on his victory and attending what has been described as a cordial summit with the then-president-elect in New York along with other tech titans.
In a way, for Amazon and other tech giants, it’s a matter of which stakeholder would they rather upset.
Abstaining from criticizing the White House in order to diminish the risk to its regulatory agenda would have been “more pragmatic” for Amazon, said Abhinav Gupta, a professor of strategic management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. “At the same time, in a climate when companies are going to speak up, they’d get some reputational penalty from customers and employees.”
There’s also “some strength in numbers,” Gupta said. “If there’s one or two companies that could be singled out for speaking against the administration, it would have a different impact than the entire industry speaking unanimously.”