Germany’s Business Leaders Are Wading Into the Debate About Nationalism
(Bloomberg) -- The top executives of Daimler AG and BMW AG joined other German corporate leaders to denounce racism, taking a rare public stand in a sign of the growing concern about the threat nationalism poses to an economy dependent on exports and in need of immigrants to shore up its aging workforce.
BMW and Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks, pointed to their German staffs with people from more than 100 different countries. Chemical maker BASF SE, retailer Metro AG, insurer Allianz SE and lenders Deutsche Bank AG and Commerzbank AG also participated in the coordinated campaign involving most of Germany’s biggest listed companies.
“There is no place for racism at Daimler,” Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche said on Twitter. “Everyone of us is now called upon to stand united against radicalization. Because radicalization has never solved any problem.”
The campaign comes some three weeks after violent protests by anti-immigrant, right-wing extremists erupted in the eastern city of Chemnitz, catching business and political leaders off guard. While Siemens AG Chief Executive Officer Joe Kaeser urged staff to stand against “xenophobia and public breach of law” on the day of the unrest, most executives have so far stayed on the sidelines.
The shift to the right is becoming harder to ignore as similar protests emerge elsewhere in the country. The trend is fueled by a populist wave throughout Europe and the inroads of the far-right AfD party, which was voted into German parliament for the first time in last year’s general election and support has risen to as high as 17.5 percent in recent polls.
BMW Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger said in his post: “We clearly stand for an open culture, for diversity, for togetherness.”
The fallout from the violence in Chemnitz is prompting expressions of concern for Germany’s international reputation and reopening ideological fault lines threatening the stability of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. The latest blowup led Merkel to remove her domestic intelligence chief after he questioned the authenticity of video that appeared to show demonstrators chasing foreigners.
“Diversity is in danger now and is being questioned by many in society, so it’s important to speak out,” Aletta Graefin von Hardenberg, managing director of Charta der Vielfalt, which promotes workplace diversity and organized the campaign, said in an interview with Bloomberg.
While Germany’s business leaders are taking a public stand, the comments steer clear of controversial topics and none make reference to the violence in Chemnitz where the killing of a local man was blamed on refugees. Germany’s struggle with increasingly overt right-wing sentiment follows a mass influx of migrants in 2015.
“We are convinced that we will only succeed if we create a working environment that is free of bias and characterized by respect and acceptance,” said Commerzbank’s personnel chief Bettina Orlopp.
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