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Koch Industries stops asking job candidates about their criminal records

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Charles KochPhotograph by Bo Rader — ZUMAPRESS

A few weeks after Apple Inc. (AAPL) fumbled the issue of using criminal background checks in hiring processes, Koch Industries has banned job application questions about candidates’ criminal pasts.

The private corporation with subsidiaries in manufacturing, refining, trading, and investment made the move in March, joining other U.S. companies and a national movement trying to make it easier for ex-offenders to find work. “As a large United States-based manufacturing company that employs 60,000 American workers we shouldn’t be rejecting people at the very start of the hiring process who may otherwise be capable and qualified, and want an opportunity to work hard,” Mark Holden, general counsel of the company, said in a statement to Fortune.

Based in Wichita, Kansas, Koch Industries is run by billionaire CEO Charles Koch, who—along with his brother David, an executive vice president and board member at the company—is known for supporting Republican political candidates and for holding staunch libertarian views. Charles Koch is also a vocal advocate for reforming the country’s criminal justice system. In an op-ed in January, Koch and Holden wrote that overcriminalization “affects us all but most profoundly harms our disadvantaged citizens.” Their op-ed asked, “If ex-offenders can’t get a job, education or housing, how can we possibly expect them to have a productive life?”

That question has been at the heart of the growing so-called ban the box movement, which prohibits employers from immediately asking jobseekers to disclose their criminal histories. One hundred cities and counties have adopted a ban the box policy, as have 16 states, with the governors of Vermont and Virginia signing executive orders to implement such rules this year. Six of those states have hiring laws that apply to private companies, in addition to public employers.

Individual corporations—like Koch Industries—have also acted independent of government regulations to remove criminal background checks from their own job application processes. In 2014, Bed Bath & Beyond stopped automatically rejecting job applicants with criminal histories. That same year, Target (TGT) rolled out a nationwide campaign to eliminate an application question that asked jobseekers about their criminal past. Wal-Mart (WMT) and Home Depot (HD) have done the same.

Apple came under fire earlier this month for a policy that banned workers with a felony conviction in the past seven years from working on the construction of the tech giant’s new spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino, California. The company later stopped the practice. “We recognize that this may have excluded some people who deserve a second chance,” the company said in a statement at the time.

Job application questions about criminal histories are thought to discriminate against the 70 million American adults with criminal records and to have a disproportionately negative effect on persons of color, who make up more than 60% of the country’s incarcerated population. The majority of employers rely on criminal background checks despite their potentially harmful effects: almost 7 out of 10 companies use them.