Help others or go bust, migrant billionaire tells big business

Businesses that fail to look beyond the bottom line will not survive as consumer pressure to do good rises, said the billionaire behind top-selling U.S. yogurt brand Chobani.   

Hamdi Ulukaya, who grew up in a family of semi-nomadic Kurdish shepherds in Turkey before emigrating to the United States in his 20s, said the days of companies running solely to maximize profit for shareholders were over.

His company, Chobani, has a policy of including refugees in its workforce, and he has pledged much of his personal fortune to help those forcibly displaced through his Tent Refugee Partnership, a charity that mobilizes companies to do more

“I think businesses that do not get involved with this type of humanitarian issues are not going to exist in the next generation,”

Ulukaya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview ahead of the Global Forum on Refugees in Geneva.

“I think the business community knows this better than ever before, even three years ago. You see it more and more. The sole purpose of business is making money – that’s garbage, it’s old, done, it’s finished.”

The Global Forum on Refugees is a two-day meeting of political, business, and humanitarian leaders designed to secure commitments of help after a decade in which the number of refugees worldwide has doubled to more than 25 million. 

Ulukaya said refugees were not only among his hardest working staff, but they were are also innovative and entrepreneurial – qualities bred by the need to survive in the toughest of circumstances.

One in five workers at Chobani, the Turkish word for shepherd, in a nod to Ulukaya’s own background, is a refugee or migrant. 

Hiring refugees “is good business,” said the 47-year-old billionaire, who was last week awarded the prestigious Global Citizen Business Leader Award in London.

His comments come amid growing pressure on businesses to extend their priorities beyond profit and consider what they can contribute to pressing issues, from climate change to fostering greater economic equality.

Earlier this year, the Business Roundtable, which represents some of the United States’ biggest companies, made headlines when it changed its definition of the purpose of a corporation from looking after shareholders to “improving our society.”


On Monday, companies including furniture giant Ikea, Vodafone, and Danish toymaker Lego jointly pledged about $250 million to programs to help refugees access jobs, training and education. [nL8N28N5IH]

And fashion retailer H&M has just signed up to Ulukaya’s Tent Refugee Partnership, which seeks to foster a larger role for the private sector in helping refugees become more self-sufficient.    

H&M already has about 500 refugees in its supply chain in Turkey, which hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, and has said it will increase that to at least 2,000 by 2025.

Ulukaya said employing refugees was not without its challenges, from language problems and lack of training to simple things like workers not owning a car.

But he said the additional work paid off in the end. 

“It just requires a little bit of extra effort. Not a lot,”

he said, urging more companies in countries hosting high numbers of refugees to do more.

Investors and company boards have already accepted the need to do good, said Ulukaya – the challenge for many is figuring out how.

“The investor knows that, the board knows that, the CEO knows that. The problem is, how do I change the way I was doing things to a new way of doing things?

“But it will happen. I don’t think tomorrow’s consumers are going to value goods and services from the companies who do not do the right thing.” 

—Reuters Foundation

By Claire Cozens

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