Global — Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s comments during an interview with Axios sparked the #boycottuber campaign that once again, paints the already-controversial company to bad light.
During the interview, Khosrowshahi called the murder of a Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi a “serious mistake”.
Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by individuals identified as Saudi intelligence officials and a forensic doctor last year. He was a longtime editor at state-linked newspapers in Saudi Arabia. He was also a prominent critic of the Saudi leadership and of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Hence, investigators suspect that Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a role in Khashoggi’s slaying.
Referring to the government of Saudi Arabia, the Uber chief told the show: “I think that government said that they made a mistake.”
Furthermore, the CEO then compared the incident to the death of pedestrian Elaine Herzberg hit by an Uber self-driving car.
“It’s a serious mistake,” Khosrowshahi said. “We’ve made mistakes too, right? With self-driving, and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake. I think that people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven. I think they have taken it seriously.”
Understandably, hundreds of people online became furious and upset with Khosrowshahi’s comments. Eventually, this massive uproar put #BoycottUber on the trending tab yesterday on Twitter. Some critics suggested that the insensitive comments were meant to downplay Khashoggi’s gruesome murder in order to mollify the company’s 5th largest investor: Saudi Arabia.
Saudi holds about $1.9 billion worth of Uber stock and its managing director, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, sits on Uber’s board. This obviously creates an atmosphere of doubt of whether or not Uber’s intentions are pure or simply based on self-interest.
Khosrowshahi has issued an apology for his murder-is-forgivable comments. Axios editor Dan Primack noted that the CEO called his cell soon after taping the show.
Still, this people-can-change-and-mistakes-happen attitude is no longer a surprise when it comes to Khosrowshahi. In fact, it had happened several times before.
During an interview in 2018 at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Khosrowshahi defended Uber COO Barney Harford, who had reportedly made insensitive comments about women and racial minorities.
“I don’t think that a comment that might have been taken as insensitive and happened to report by large news organizations should mark a person,” Khosrowshahi stated. “I don’t think that’s fair. And I’m sure I’ve said things that have been insensitive and you take that as a learning moment. And the question is, does a person want to change, does a person want to improve? Does a person understand when they did something wrong, and then change behaviors? And I’ve known Barney for years and that’s why I stand 100 percent behind him.”
Obviously, this kind of behavior exposed a weakness in the company. If left uncorrected, it will threaten to bring back the toxic culture Khosrowshahi promised he would eliminate when he took over as CEO in 2017.