You know it’s a contentious presidential race when yogurt becomes political.
Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and CEO of Chobani, the brand that made Greek yogurt an American favorite, is staring down calls to boycott his products, racial epithets on social media, and conspiracy theory articles posted to right-wing media websites like Breibart News. His crime, according to the New York Times, is employing immigrants who have sought refuge in the US.
For Ulukaya, a Turkish-American immigrant, finding ways to help people fleeing war torn countries has become a personal mission. He created a foundation to help migrants, gave a rousing speech at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos that called upon corporations to assist refugees, teamed up with the White House to forward that effort, and has signed a Giving Pledge (a philanthropic effort led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates) that promises to direct most of his fortune to help refugees.
The work started when Ulukaya learned about a refugee resettlement center in a town near one of his factories. He recruited refugee workers with salaries above minimum wage, and provided transportation and translators. He now employs about 300 refugees in a workforce of more than 2,000, with praise from a federal refugee program.
Ulukaya has been able to do this after building his company from scratch. He arrived in New York in the 1990s, and after years selling feta cheese received a Small Business Administration loan that led to the purchase of a small factory and the birth of Chobani brand yogurt, now the largest yogurt brand in the US.
But for all that success, Ulukaya and his company have become a target for hate speech and xenophobia.
Breitbart, an alt-right website, has led the charge, posting unsubstantiated pieces, including one that said tuberculosis cases spiked when Chobani opened a plant in Twin Falls, Idaho. The attention spurred the mayor of Twin Falls to stand up for the company, which inspired death threats.
In the wake of The New York Times story, the yogurt company has declined to comment. Still, fans of Ulukaya and his company are voicing their support.