Second CEO quits Donald Trump’s advisory council over Charlottesville

A second CEO has stepped down from Donald Trump’s business advisory council in the wake of the president’s controversial response to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one dead and several injured.

Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, announced his decision to resign from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, which focuses on the economy and job creation, in a statement late Monday.

He quit after Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck and one of the US’s most high-profile African American executives, stepped down from the council on Monday as Trump came under intense criticism for initially failing to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups following the Charlottesville attack.

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“Under Armour engages in sports, not politics,” Plank said in a statement posted to the sportswear company’s official Twitter account. “I am appreciative for the opportunity to have served, but have decided to step down from the council.”

Under Armour
(@UnderArmour)
I love our country & company. I am stepping down from the council to focus on inspiring & uniting through power of sport. – CEO Kevin Plank pic.twitter.com/8YvndJMjj1

August 15, 2017
“I love our country and our company and will continue to focus my efforts on inspiring every person that they can do anything through the power of sport which promotes unity, diversity and inclusion.”

Plank and other members of the council have come under pressure in the aftermath of the attack in Charlottesville, when a white supremacist rally erupted into violence. One of the rally participants has been accused of intentionally driving his car into counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Plank had earlier tweeted: “We are saddened by #Charlottesville. There is no place for racism or discrimination in this world. We choose love & unity.”

Under Armour
(@UnderArmour)
We are saddened by #Charlottesville. There is no place for racism or discrimination in this world. We choose love & unity. – CEO Kevin Plank

August 14, 2017
That response was found to be insufficient by Twitter users, who urged Plank to step down from Trump’s council. Their calls were amplified when Frazier resigned from the council on Monday, citing his “responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism”.

Trump prompted a firestorm by initially refusing to condemn white supremacists, choosing instead to denounce violence “on all sides”. The president did not explicitly single out white supremacists until Monday, declaring in a speech that “racism is evil”.

Frazier quit Trump’s panel earlier on Monday, citing “a responsibility to take a stand against violence and extremism” and triggering an almost immediate attack from the president.

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His decision followed Trump’s statement blaming “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” for the violent protests that left one woman dead and 19 injured – a statement that has been condemned by members of his own party as well as opponents.

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Frazier, one of just four black executives running a Fortune 500 company, said in a statement.

Trump attacked Frazier shortly after the announcement. “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” he tweeted.

Trump has previously criticized pharmaceutical companies for charging “astronomical” drug prices and pledged to find ways to bring prices down.

Following Frazier’s announcement, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO – a union federation with 12 million members – said it was also assessing its involvement with Trump’s business panel. Trumka sits on the panel.

An anti-Trump demonstration in Manhattan on 14 August. The president’s failure to immediately condemn white supremacists was widely criticized.
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An anti-Trump demonstration in Manhattan on 14 August. The president’s failure to immediately condemn white supremacists was widely criticized. Photograph: Amr Alfiky/Reuters
“The AFL-CIO has unequivocally denounced the actions of bigoted domestic terrorists in Charlottesville and called on the president to do the same,” Trumka said, adding, “While the AFL-CIO will remain a powerful voice for the freedoms of working people, there are real questions into the effectiveness of this council to deliver real policy that lifts working families.”

Frazier and Plank are the fourth and fifth business leaders to quit Trump’s business panel. The Disney chairman Bob Iger and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk both resigned in June after the president announced he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement.

“Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

Trump announced the creation of his Strategic and Policy Forum last December. The aim was to create a forum for business leaders to advise the president on ways to “make it attractive for firms to create new jobs”.

But the business panel was dogged by controversy from the outset, with staff and customers of many of the companies represented protesting that the involvement of their bosses appeared to endorse policies that their companies’ opposed.

Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, was the first executive to quit the council. In February, he announced his resignation following intense criticism from staff and customers over Trump’s immigration executive order – which attempted to suspend immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries.

Monday’s resignations will put pressure of the remaining members on the council, many of whose companies have policies on immigration and climate change that are in conflict with the Trump administration. Remaining members include Mary Barra, chief executive of General Motors; Jamie Dimon, chairman of JP Morgan; Indra Nooyi, chair and chief executive of Pepsi; Ginni Rometty, chief executive of IBM; and Steven Schwarzman, chief executive of Blackstone.

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