As It Happens

Chobani yogurt CEO receives death threats for supporting refugees

Twin Falls, ID. is home to a Chobani facility. The mayor says he and his family have received death threats over Chobani's support of refugees.
The founder and CEO of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, has been a vocal advocate for refugees. He has faced racist attacks for his work. (Mark Von Holden/ Mike Groll/Associated Press)
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Chobani, one of the most popular brands of Greek yogurt on the market, is facing a boycott. Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya is a vocal advocate on behalf of refugees, and employs more than 300 refugees at his factories. 
The Chobani plant near Twin Falls, Idaho. (Drew Nash/ The Associated Press)
That support has made the company a target for the extreme right-wing. Mr. Ulukaya has faced a barrage of racial hatred on social media, and far-right websites like Breitbart and World Net Daily stoke conspiracies about the company. Earlier this year, World Net Daily published a piece titled "American Yogurt Tycoon Vows to Choke U.S. With Muslims." (That headline was later changed to "U.S. Yogurt Billionaire Asks Businesses to Hire More Foreign Refugees.") 
Shawn Barigar is the mayor of Twin Falls, Idaho. A Chobani facility in Twin Falls employs approximately 2000 people. (City of Twin Falls )

Shawn Barigar is the Mayor of Twin Falls, Idaho, where Chobani has a large facility. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the backlash he has faced for supporting the company: 

Shawn Barigar: It's a handful of local people fed by a larger national anti-refugee movement. I've received some threatening voicemails and emails, and my wife received a death threat as well, but they've been relatively isolated and not generated from Twin Falls. 

Carol Off: What was this in response to?

SB: This recent round of concern stems from a case where a young girl was sexually assaulted. Other juveniles were involved in the case who are from refugee families. That sparked a narrative that the city council and the prosecutor's office were covering up what refugees were doing in our community. That false narrative took off like wild fire. 

CO: How have you responded to it? 

SB: To the case itself, we responded the same we do to all cases of this nature. It's being prosecuted, it's in the juvenile justice system. The broader community conversation has been listening to a lot of comments that are rooted in fear and not in facts. We, collectively, have been trying to share the facts of refugee resettlement, the facts of Twin Falls as a welcoming community, the facts about Chobani being an outstanding corporate citizen in our community, much like many other businesses here. 
President Bill Clinton and Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO, Chobani and Founder of the Tent Foundation, discuss the role of the private sector in helping refugees at the Clinton Global Initiative Winter Meeting in 2016. (Stuart Ramson/ The Associated Press)

CO: The kind of reaction you've had... does it have anything to do with the series of articles that the news agency Breitbart has been publishing about Chobani and its refugee hiring policy?

SB: Yeah, so when we had the sexual assault incident earlier this summer, that's when refugee resettlement got onto Breitbart's radar. They ran a series of stories that tied together cherry-picked information about refugees and wove them into a very false narrative about what really happens in our community. Some of these news articles made it sound as if this was part of the culture of refugees, that it was encouraged by the parents, that it was a result of Chobani coming here, that local government officials are being paid off by the federal government to turn a blind eye... that's all just made up. It's all false, and it got woven into this story that is totally crazy. 

For more on this story and how the company's CEO has received death threats, listen to our full interview with Mayor Shawn Barigar.

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