Chobani’s ethos can be boiled down the belief that everyone deserves better options. What’s true for yogurt is also true for their 2,000 employees, more than 300 of which are refugees from Africa and the Middle East, reports the New York Times, drawing ire from the far right and putting founder Hamdi Ulukaya on the receiving end of death threats.
Ulukaya, an immigrant himself (from Turkey), first bought a yogurt factory in upstate New York before adding another location in Twin Falls, Idaho. First in New York, and then later in Twin Falls, Ulukaya learned his facilities were nearby refugee resettlement centers. All refugees were offered employment, and the company provided transportation, translators, and a salary above the minimum wage (also given to the other workers at the factory) for those who accepted. For Ulukaya and other like-minded people, this was just the right thing to do. “The minute a refugee has a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee,” Mr. Ulukaya said in a talk.
However, nothing goes uncontested in the middle of a highly volatile election season, not even yogurt. The issue of immigration, and more specifically refugees, is one that Republican nominee Donald Trump has very strong opinions on. "She wants open borders,” he said of opponent Hillary Clinton. “People are going to pour into our country."
This is the same rhetoric that right-wing sites, like Breitbart (who published misleading articles connecting refugees and tuberculosis, and Chobani’s hiring practices with a sexual assault case) have been using to stir up contempt for Ulukaya. Dissenters online have accused the founder of wanting to “drown the United States in Muslims,” spreading the lie that he’s “importing them to Idaho 300 at a time.”
Some consumers object to what they feel is preferential treatment, arguing that instead jobs should be going to veterans and other American workers. But the conspiracy theories get more elaborate the deeper you dig, dragging people like Twin Falls mayor, Shawn Barigar, into the mess.
“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 it’s part of this Islamification of the United States,” he told the New York Times. “It’s crazy.”
Both Ulukaya and his wife began receiving death threats, but this hasn’t stopped his mission. Last year, he signed the Giving Pledge, agreeing to give away most of his fortune to helping refugees. Beyond immigration, Ulukaya recently gave 10 percent of Chobani shares to his employees, and has started offering paid parental leave to everyone. For Chobani, this is the American dream.