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Uber is a company that is no stranger to controversy. It has always been on the radar, be it for the way it operates when it comes to regulatory compliance or the way its drivers conduct themselves. Many have rightfully criticized the company for its policy of dealing with things when they go wrong.
However, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a top trending Twitter hashtag that called for an outright boycott of the company.
The call for boycott started after what the CEO of Uber said during an interview. It was spurred by his answer to a question about Saudi Arabia. For those who may not know, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund holds about $1.9 billion worth of Uber stock. Its manager also sits on Uber’s board.
In an interview with Axios, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was asked about Saudi Arabia’s investment in Uber and its government’s involvement in the death of Jamaal Khashoggi. His response was shocking to say the least. He simply said that the government made a ‘mistake’. It doesn’t end there. He went on to compare that ‘mistake’ to the mistake that Uber made when one of their self-driving cars killed a pedestrian.
“It’s a serious mistake. We’ve made mistakes too, with self-driving, and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake. So I think that people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven. I think they’ve taken it seriously.”
The #boycottUber hashtag immediately started trending on Twitter after the interview became public.
You can watch the video where he makes the comment here.
The comment by Uber’s CEO reeks of insensitivity and crassness. It also demonstrates the ruthlessness and competitiveness that a lot of corporate leadership can have when it comes to profitability. The counterpoint to that would say that profitability is the only thing that matters and the corporate ethics is clearly an oxymoron aimed at just posing a good brand image to the society. The video clearly shows how he’s trying to walk the tight rope and not offend ‘the board’ or ‘the investors’.
Why boycott only Uber?
I’m all for customers voting with their wallet. If they think that a company doesn’t align with their values, then spend their money elsewhere. However, how do we react when a lot of companies are flooded with Saudi investments? Uber’s getting all the attention now (and rightly so) because their CEO stumbled.
The kingdom’s influence is spreading each year. Saudi money is already behind many of the biggest tech startups in the US, including Lyft, Uber and Magic Leap. Saudi Arabia’s massive $45 billion check to SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the largest venture fund of all time, means Saudi money will likely be part of the biggest pool of venture money for years to come. The Vision Fund has made at least 26 investments, including into Slack, WeWork, GM Cruise, and other brand names. – Quartz
Starbucks had 161 stores in Saudi Arabia at the end of 2016, according to SEC filings. A Domino’s Pizza franchise opened in Riyadh in 2012. And Pepsi owns a snack-food division, called Saudi Snack Foods Company Limited, according to a an SEC filing, to name just a few. And AMC Entertainment is planning an expansion of up to 30 to 40 new theaters in the next three to five years and 50 to 100 by 2030 or sooner, according to CNBC. – CBS News
The Pundit’s Mantra
The purpose of this post is not to recommend that you take only one particular course of action. It only highlights the ethical dilemmas and predicaments we all face when it comes to travel. If you travel far enough, you’ll often find yourself at the intersection of interacting with companies and governments that have questionable human rights records. How and to what extent you react always remains your personal decision.
What do you think about this latest controversy? Do you think Uber is just being singled out? Let us know in the comments section.