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Corporate Leaders Stand Up to Hate and Trump

August 17, 2017, 7:04 PM UTC
Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook Interview
David Paul Morris — Bloomberg via Getty Images

On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he was “ending” two of his business advisory councils: a manufacturing initiative and a strategy forum.

“Rather than putting pressure on the business people of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!” Trump said on Twitter. But it quickly appeared that the councils decided to quit him on their own, which was later confirmed by a letter sent by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty to the company’s employees. You can read it in its entirety here.

The events in Charlottesville have triggered a public and widespread crisis of faith in the president’s ability and judgment. Time Inc’s content chief, Alan Murray, said it best in today’s’ CEO Daily.

With his ambiguous response to the unambiguous situation in Charlottesville, President Trump has now completed his alienation of the congressional leadership of his own party, his top military leadership, and his top allies in the business community. Were some anti-fascist protestors in Charlottesville carrying clubs and looking for a fight? Yes. Were some good people opposed to removing the statue of Robert E. Lee? Of course. Did press coverage oversimplify the situation? Always. But the racist and anti-Semitic origins of the Charlottesville rally were unmistakable, and the president’s reluctance to call them out was a fundamental failure of leadership.

But into that vacuum has stepped the business community, in both word and deed.

Mark Bertolini, Aetna’s CEO said in a statement to colleagues that he was “ashamed of the President’s behavior and comments.” In an email to employees, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.”

“The violence, racism and hatred demonstrated by Neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and white supremacists should have no place in this world,” said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in a statement to employees, reaffirming the company’s decision to prevent hate group members from booking lodging in Charlottesville.

Companies are also working to make it harder for these groups to use technology to spread hate. Spotify removed some “white power” bands from its streaming platform. Google and GoDaddy both dropped domain registration for the hate publisher, after the site published a disgusting article denigrating Heather Heyer, who was killed protesting the white nationalist rally. Squarespace stopped hosting Richard Spencer’s “think tank” and other white nationalist websites. The chat service Discord shut down a server used by another group, Paypal, Visa and Discover Financial Services all stopped processing payments and donations for hate-associated groups. Fortune has a running list here, and I expect the team to be busy updating it often. Hating hate seems to be in vogue.

Someday soon, we should have a conversation about the complexity of corporate conviction in the face of racism and hate.

But for now, I’ll point you to the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, an organization comprised of some of the world’s biggest companies who have made a public commitment to work together on issues of diversity and accountability in all its challenging nuance. It began as an idea to change the world by changing the way leaders addressed race within their firms and communities, first championed by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan in 2016, and reported exclusively by Fortune.

There are now more than 270 CEO signatories who have committed to an active exchange of best practices and ideas, much of which will ultimately be shared publicly.

This week, the steering committee, which includes Ryan along with Julie Sweet, the North American CEO of Accenture; Joe Davis, the North American Chairman of BCG; Cathy Engelbert the CEO of Deloitte; Ron Parker, the president and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council; Steve Howe, US Chairman of EY; Bill Ford, the CEO of General Atlantic; Lynne Doughtie, CEO and U.S. Chair of KPMG; Ted Mathas, Chairman and CEO of New York Life; and David Taylor, CEO of P&G, sent this note to their leader-members, and asked them to stay strong. Here’s an excerpt:

“It goes without saying that this weekend’s violent protest is incongruent with our coalition’s values and philosophy. While it is clear that as a society, there is still a lot of work to do to advance respectful, open dialogues, the events over the weekend serve as a reminder of why we – as leaders – rallied behind the CEO Action for Diversity & InclusionTM in the first place, and how important it is to create candid, safe, and trusting environments for our employees and communities. How we respond as individual leaders and organizations will undoubtedly vary to reflect our distinct needs, but together we can lead with courage and make a positive and sustainable difference for society.

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