Chobani Is Facing Backlash for Its Employment of Refugees

October 31st 2016

Tricia Tongco

The latest target of right-wing extremists might take you by surprise: Chobani. More specifically the man who founded the yogurt company.


A photo posted by Chobani (@chobani) on

Conservatives are attacking the man behind Chobani, founder Hamdi Ulukaya. According to them, he has employed too many refugees at his factories in Twin Falls, Idaho and upstate New York. 

The The New York Times reports:

"As Mr. Ulukaya has stepped up his advocacy — employing more than 300 refugees in his factories, starting a foundation to help migrants, and traveling to the Greek island of Lesbos to witness the crisis firsthand — he and his company have been targeted with racist attacks on social media and conspiratorial articles on websites including Breitbart News."

Here is just sampling of calls for a boycott against Chobani on social media.

In a January opinion piece for CNN Money, Ulukaya — a Turkish immigrant — wrote about his advocacy efforts, including creating the foundation Tent to motivate the private sector to help end the refugee crisis. He detailed his main solution as follows:

"At Chobani, the food company I founded in the United States, we have hired hundreds of refugees in the past five years, and they are some of the most talented, dedicated people I've ever met…

"The Tent Pledge asks companies all over the world to step up and do more. We're asking them to provide refugees with job training, employment opportunities, and the kind of direct assistance that experts have identified as a priority — everything from blankets and water, to debit cards and Internet access."

Snopes reports that shortly after the op-ed was published, the politically conservative news and opinion website WND.com responded with its own editorial titled "AMERICAN YOGURT BILLIONAIRE: 'HIRE MORE MUSLIM REFUGEES'; Calls on biggest U.S. companies to join Islamic surge," even though the column didn't mention Muslims.

After the WND article was published, the following image was widely circulated on social media, making the accusation that the Chobani founder was “going to drown the United States in Muslims and is importing them to Idaho 300 at a time to work in his factory.”

Chobani accusation

According to The Times, bloggers also spread conspiracy theories saying that Chobani was applying pressure to local officials in Twin Falls, Idaho, where Chobani factories are located, “to facilitate their multitude of Muslim friendly/Islamification requests.”

The Times also detailed the myriad of stories Breitbart, the conservative media outlet, wrote about Chobani. After Breitbart’s coverage, the online attacks got worse, even targeting the mayor of Twin Falls (where some Chobani factories are located), Shawn Barigar, according to The Times:

"As the online comments escalated this summer, Mr. Barigar and his wife received death threats.

"Breitbart said it was simply covering the news." 

In response to the backlash against Chobani, other people on social media expressed their desire to support the yogurt company, no doubt part of a larger cultural conversation surrounding refugees during this election.

[h/t The New York Times]