Black Caucus members 'deeply concerned' by race allegations against Airbnb

Black Caucus members 'deeply concerned' by race allegations against Airbnb
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Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday demanded answers from the home-sharing website Airbnb over allegations that African-American guests face discrimination when trying to rent a room or house through the site.

“Racism and any form of discrimination should never be tolerated in our society,” said Rep. G.K. ButterfieldG.K. ButterfieldBlack lawmakers say Confederate statues should come out of Capitol Federal judges order new North Carolina district lines Dems push back against anti-Pelosi insurgents MORE (D-N.C.), who chairs the caucus, in a statement.

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“Members of the CBC are deeply concerned about recent reports of exclusion of African Americans on the Airbnb platform, and we sincerely hope the leadership of Airbnb will take the issue of discrimination seriously and implement common sense measures to prevent such discrimination and ill-treatment of its customers in the future.”

Critics of the company have united around the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack to voice their frustrations, including being turned down for rooms while their white friends were accepted and, in at least one case, facing a racial slur from an Airbnb host.

The Black Caucus has spent the last year encouraging technology companies to do more to diversify their workforces. So far, TaskRabbit has been the only Silicon Valley company to sign on to the initiative.

Butterfield and colleague Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) sent a letter to Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky asking him to pursue certain questions in the company’s review of the allegations, including what the company is doing to fight discrimination and whether it has recorded data on discrimination on its platform.

“In light of the documented discrimination occurring on your website, we understand Airbnb is planning a comprehensive review of the integer platform in which your users interact with private citizens for the purpose of renting their homes or rooms in their home,” they said in the letter. “We appreciate you taking the first step in correcting this serious issue.”

The lawmakers noted that hotels and motels are governed by civil rights law that forbids discrimination.

An Airbnb spokesman in a statement said company officials "appreciate Congressmen Butterfield and Cleaver's letter and absolutely share their concern. Discrimination has no place on our platform."

"We are engaged with a range of leaders on this important issue, and we will soon be meeting with CBC officials and other civil rights leaders to discuss progress on reaching our shared goals of a more fair, just and inclusive society," the spokesman said.

Airbnb has hired a former ACLU official to lead a review of discrimination on the platform that is expected to conclude toward the end of the summer. They’ve also said they hope to use their technical prowess to address the problem.

The company has also kicked at least two hosts off its platform in recent weeks for engaging in discriminatory behavior against guests.

That hasn’t stopped the company’s foes in the hotel industry — which stands to lose out from the growth of Airbnb — from seizing on the allegations. A coalition backed by hotel interests as well as housing advocates recently launched a multi-city advertising effort calling attention to the criticism of the company.