Infor CEO puts pressure on Arkansas to amend its 'religious freedom' bill, following Indiana backlash

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez April 1, 2015
Infor CEO Charles Phillips has written to Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, urging him to change the details of its religious freedom bill to protect against discrimination.


Following the huge backlash Indiana faced from technology companies over its bigoted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Infor CEO Charles Phillips has written a letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson urging him to veto a similar bill being passed through state law.

Governor Hutchinson has since asked lawmakers to make changes to the bill so that it protects against discrimination, having also faced similar calls from equal rights activists and large companies such as Walmart.

Phillips' letter mirrors Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff's campaign against Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who passed the controversial RFRA at the tail end of last week. Benioff's takedown of the bill has led to a number of a technology companies following suit and pulling funding and programs out of Indiana, forcing Pence to order a “fix” to the legislation.

Indiana's 'religious freedom' bill allows providers of services to discriminate against customers on the grounds of religious belief and has sparked a huge outcry from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

With Pence backing down, all eyes are on other states that are passing similar legislation. Whilst Arkansas has decided to change its bill, Georgia and North Carolina have stalled the signing of their bills whilst lawmakers assess their options.

diginomica on news Rachel Maddow
diginomica's coverage of Indiana's RFRA has been featured on msnbc's Rachel Maddow show

Phillips sent an email to all Infor employees explaining that he had written to Governor Hutchinson, explaining that having been born in Arkansas and having lived in the state during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, he does not want to see history repeat itself by allowing legislation to create divisions amongst citizens.

Phillips said:

As most of you are aware, there has been considerable backlash against Indiana SB 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, since it was signed into law by Governor Mike Pence last week. That legislation, which is being considered by several other states, contorts the noble principle of protecting religious minorities and paves the way for legalized discrimination, particularly against the LGBT community, which is on the eve of seeing their relationships become equal under the law by Supreme Court decision this June. Opposition to this bill has come from all sectors, and the tech community has played a prominent role.

You are one of 13,000 wonderfully diverse employees at Infor; our diverse backgrounds and thinking are what fosters the creativity and innovation that forms the cornerstone of our strategy and drives our growth. Infor employees are highly-skilled professionals who are passionate about their craft and want to feel a sense of pride about their choice of employer. You expect Infor to stand for fairness and social responsibility, and we are committed to exceeding that expectation.

This morning I sent a letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, the state of my birth, urging him to veto Arkansas HB1228, which he has just done moments ago. I shared with him my own experiences growing up in Arkansas during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and the greatest lesson I leaned as a Captain in the Marine Corps – you cannot lead by dividing them.

Governor Hutchinson

Phillips also said that he had told Governor Hutchinson that he is re-evaluating a summit that Infor was due to be hosting in Little Rock this fiscal year.

Republican Governor Hutchinson said on Wednesday that he wants Arkansas to be known as the “state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance”. He also revealed that his son signed a petition to veto the bill.

Hutchinson has asked state lawmakers to make the changes necessary to satisfy his concerns and has said that he is considering signing an executive order that bars discrimination among the state's workforce. He said:

The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions.

It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue.

Secondly, we make sure that we communicate we’re not going to be a state that fails to recognize the diversity of our workplace, our economy and our future.”

We wanted to have it crafted similar to what is at the federal level. To do that, though, changes need to be made. The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not precisely mirror the federal law.

The technology sector has played a key role in forcing changes to the bigoted bills passing through at state level. As well as Benioff taking a firm stand against the charter, by cancelling all Salesforce travel and programs involving Indiana, other tech companies including Oracle, AWS, EMC and Cloudera have pulled funding from programs in the area.

However, Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, who was previously Hewlett-Packard CEO, has come out in defence of the Indiana law. She has also heavily criticised Silicon Valley for taking a stand against the bill and for labelling it as discriminatory, by asking why they aren't taking a similar stand against the “subjugation of the rights of women and gays in many countries in which these companies do business”. She added:

We are having now a clarifying debate about what is really at stake here for gay couples. What’s really at stake here for gay couples is how government bestows benefits. What’s really at stake here for people of religious conviction is their conviction that marriage is a religious institution because only a man and a woman can create life, which is a gift that comes from God.

And I think both of those points of view are valid, and I really hope that we come to a place in this country where we are prepared to have respectful differences and tolerate those two views.

And on CEOs of Silicon Valley, Fiorina said:

Well, frankly, I think they were responding to pressure, and I think it’s too bad.

It’s interesting to me that there isn’t the same outrage in the Twitterverse about the subjugation of

gay flag
the rights of women and gays in many countries in which these companies do business. Where is the outrage about that? Where is the outrage about how gays are treated in Iran, for example? Where is the outrage about how women are treated in Algeria?


My take

Charles Phillips should be commended for his stand and for taking the fight being had in Indiana to Arkansas. There are a number of states passing similar legislation and any company or organisation or CEO that has the power to influence how it is formed, to protect against odious bigotry and thinly veiled discrimination, should do so.

Keep up the good work.

And Hutchinson's U-turn was far more humble than Pence's, thankfully.

And as for Fiorina, this is someone that endorsed Sarah Palin to run the United States, but didn't believe she had the experience to run HP, so I'm not paying too much heed there.

Disclosure: Infor, Salesforce and Oracle are all diginomica premier partners.