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Airbnb Enlists Eric Holder to Help Curb Discrimination on Its Service

July 20, 2016, 8:29 PM UTC
Holder And Issa Meet On Capitol Hill Ahead Of Possible Contempt Vote
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: Attorney General Eric Holder talks to reporters after meeting with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa in the U.S. Capitol June 19, 2012 in Washington, DC. Issa and Holder did not appear to find any more common ground about the release of documents related to the Fast and Furious program and the committee plans to move forward Wednesday with a vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photo by Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

As home-sharing company Airbnb continues to grapple with the challenges of fighting discrimination that some of its users encounter (and display), it has enlisted the help of former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco company announced Holder’s participation in its efforts to craft stronger anti-discrimination policies as part of a public update. In early June, after several customers publicly shared that they’ve experienced racism and discrimination while using the service, Airbnb announced a 90-day review of its service. Additionally, it has sought the help of outside experts like Laura Murphy, the former chief of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office.

“We believe that everyone should be treated equally, and with respect,” wrote co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky in a blog post.

“But it’s not enough to just offer our sympathies,” he added. “We aren’t so naïve to think that one company can solve these problems, but we understand that we have an obligation to be honest about our own shortcomings, and do more to get our house in order.”

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Holder will work with John Relman to review and craft stronger anti-discrimination policies, says the company. Relman is “a leading civil rights attorney and national expert on fair housing and public accommodation issues,” according to Airbnb.

“I’m looking forward to working with Airbnb to develop and implement a world-class anti-discrimination policy,” said Holder in an statement. “Airbnb is committed to building a community where everyone can belong, no matter who they are or what they look like. I’m eager to help them craft policies that will be the model for companies who share Airbnb’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

Airbnb made headlines in June when users noticed that it had clarified its policy to emphasize that customers can’t file action class lawsuits against the company. Some critics have noted that the waiver takes away a powerful tool for prompting fair treatment from companies.

Holder isn’t the first policy expert to work with the home-sharing company. Last year, Airbnb hired Chris Lehane, a former political strategist for the likes of Al Gore and Bill Clinton, to lead its public policy efforts.

Airbnb also says it’s hiring additional employees “whose full-time job will be to detect and address instances of discrimination.” It’s unclear what exactly they’ll do, but they’ll presumably work closely with customer support teams.

As Airbnb is finding out, combating the discrimination some of its users experience is a tall order. Last week, Chesky and Airbnb’s chief of business and legal affairs Belinda Johnson took the stage at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. and offered much of the same acknowledgements the company had previously made. (Read Chesky’s full remarks here.)

Moreover, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant pointed out during an audience question and answer session that many of the company’s blind spots are likely due the lack of diversity in its employees.

“I really would challenge you to look at what are the employee makeups at your companies and how can you do more to hire engineers, to hire designers that would be able to look at your product from this lens,” said Bryant. (Check out Airbnb’s workforce diversity report here.)

Airbnb has already implemented certain anti-discrimination initiatives, such as offering anti-bias training during its annual conference for Airbnb hosts last year. It also recently asked Harvard University’s Dr. Robert W. Livingston, who specializes in such programs, to help the company improve these trainings and make them more widely available.

Airbnb has another six weeks or so before it completes the review of its service. The company says it will share more updates on its efforts in the coming weeks.