Tent helps retailers help refugees — and themselves

Group founded by Chobani CEO is attracting retail attention
Bruce Horovitz
NRF Contributor

Retailers can do a lot more than simply read about the plight of refugees from Ukraine or Afghanistan who are entering the U.S without jobs. They can hire them with the assistance of organizations like Tent Partnership for Refugees. Scarlet Cronin, senior director of global partnerships at Tent and former associate director of partnerships for the Clinton Global Initiative, explains how it works and why retailers can benefit from hiring refugees.

What is Tent?

Tent was founded six years ago from the personal experience of our founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, who is CEO of Chobani. He is not a refugee, but he left Turkey and came to the U.S. under refugee-like conditions and founded Chobani years later.

Why did he create Tent?

At Chobani, he struggled to meet the demand of the number of employees that he needed to grow. He looked everywhere. Its upper New York state facility had a refugee resettlement center about 30 minutes away. He realized that could be a talent pool. This resulted in a huge turn of events. Some 20 to 30 percent of its employees are refugees or immigrants and that’s a huge part of Chobani’s success. There’s a special work ethic they bring to his business. He decided that he wanted to figure out how to get more CEOs involved.

Scarlet Cronin
Scarlet Cronin,
senior director of global partnerships at Tent

What is Tent’s mission?

To mobilize businesses to step up for refugees. This goes beyond philanthropy. It’s about getting companies to help refugees as employees, clients, customers and consumers. We want refugees to become productive members of society.

What does Tent do to assist retailers?

We are here to make it as easy as possible for businesses to engage with refugees. We don’t want businesses to feel overwhelmed or that they have to reinvent the wheel in order to help them. So we’ve set up a series of steps to make this happen.

Does a retailer have to pay for Tent’s services?

No. There is no fee to join Tent. We are pro-bono consultants. We sit down with a company only after we do some research on them. Say, for example, you’re a retailer with major operations in Los Angeles, New York and Boston. We’d examine which locations have the largest refugee populations and determine if this is a match for you. We’d also want to know your growth strategy and your hiring needs.

How many companies are you currently working with as Tent members?

About 250.

How many of those companies are headquartered in the United States?

We have a coalition of 100 U.S. companies, including Amazon, CVS, Gap, Levi, L’Oréal, New Balance, Pfizer, Delta and FedEx.

What is the minimum size that a company must be for you to work with them?

We work with companies that have at least 2,000 employees or $500 million in annual revenues. It’s a rubric we selected to capture companies considered to be large enough. We dedicate our resources to companies that can have impact on scale.

What if I’m a much smaller retailer but still want to assist refugees as possible employees?

All our materials are online and available for anyone to use. For example, there are refugee hiring guidelines that explain the steps for hiring refugees.

What does your U.S. coalition specifically do?

We work with each company on an individual basis, and we also bring the companies together on a regular basis for working group calls. That’s when we get into issues on best practices, say, on hiring refugees who might not speak English. Or maybe there’s an issue with their Social Security numbers.

What’s the benefit to retailers?

That’s a fair question and one that all companies should be asking. There’s a lot in it for them. For example, at Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya’s experience was that it was great for his business and for his business growth.

Careers and leadership

Learn more about how retail leaders are paving the way for their organizations and employees.

Anything else that benefits retailers?

Yes. Refugees typically stay on the job longer across all industries. That is something that’s especially powerful in the hotel industry where there’s a 60 percent turnover rate. Refugees stay on the job.

Do consumers care if businesses hire refugees?

Consumers respond very positively to businesses that take actions for refugees. A study we did with New York University found that 63 percent of consumers say they are more like to purchase from brands that help refugees. That’s even higher than those who said they would purchase from companies that are environmentally friendly.

What about the retail labor shortage?

There is a labor shortage that’s incredibly concerning and a very high turnover rate in retail anyway. And here’s a very motivated labor pool looking for what might be its first job in this country. For us, that is the strongest entry point to talking with companies.

How do employees respond to working at businesses that hire refugees?

Companies that hire refugees score 25 percent higher in employee satisfaction with the company’s culture and values.

What are Tent’s growth goals?

We are currently in conversations with dozens of companies to set hiring targets. In September, we will host a U.S. business summit for refugees. I can safely say we’re at 100 U.S. companies now and we’d like to double that over the next couple of years.

What are a few companies that have had good success stories in hiring refugees?

Sodexo committed to hiring 600 refugees in the U.S. and already passed that target. Amazon has invested in covering the costs of English as a foreign language support and even free college tuition for refugees. And Tysons has also invested in English as a second language support and providing mentors and buddies for refugee employees.

How many refugees need this help?

Not all have arrived yet in the U.S., but the U.S. government has approved admitting about 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and 75,000 from Afghanistan.

What has touched you the most in working with refugees?

One of the programs we have is a mentorship program that matches LGBTQ+ refugees with mentors at companies. They are doubly vulnerable when they come to the U.S. This group doesn’t always have the same level of support when it comes to job placement as other refugees. We have set up mentorships at 25 U.S. companies. It’s a powerful feeling when someone cares enough to invest in your professional development.

What is most urgent for retailers to know about refugees right now?

Crises come and go. There was a wonderful outpouring of support for the Afghans and Ukrainians when it was first in the news. But even as the news cycle ebbs, the number of refugees who keep arriving stays the same. It’s an urgent time for businesses to continue to think about refugees. When the stories aren’t in the news so much, it doesn’t mean the issue has gone away.

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