Florida Pensions Investigate Potential Discriminatory Behavior by Airbnb

Allegations could lead to a state-wide prohibition on purchasing shares of the company.

The Florida State Board of Administration (SBA) initiated a 90-day review period of Airbnb concerning allegations from the state’s governor, members of non-profit organizations, and state citizens citing that the company has in some shape or form practiced or encouraged discriminatory practices against Israel.

Florida state legislation directed the SBA in 2016 to draft a “scrutinized companies” list, comprised of companies “that participate in a boycott of Israel including actions that limit commercial relations with Israel of Israeli-controlled territories in a discriminatory manner,” according to a report from the $201 billion pension.

If the SBA cannot find compelling evidence that Airbnb is not participating in such practices against Israel at the conclusion of its investigation, retirement systems based in the sunshine state will be prohibited from directly acquiring securities of the company if it goes public, and all Florida state employees will be barred from purchasing Airbnb listings during official business trips, a spokesperson for the SBA told CIO. Indirect holdings are exempt from the prohibition (such as commingled accounts, index funds, etc.), but the pension will submit letters to the fund managers requesting they divest their holdings from the company and avoid buying shares from the company in the future.

In a letter in response to the allegations presented to the SBA during its January board meeting, a representative of Airbnb argued that the company “is not boycotting Israel, Israeli businesses, nor the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform. Airbnb has a significant investment in Israel and will continue to invest in Israel.”

“Over the last five years, Airbnb has invested $20 million in support of our community and businesses activities in Israel. To the best of Airbnb’s knowledge, the company is one of the leading investors in Israel travel and tourism,” the company argued in a prepared statement.

The company’s November 2018 decision to ban future reservations for listings located in the West Bank is founded on its continued stance on permitting reservations in homes that are based in disputed territories. The company’s framework involves evaluating whether the “existence of listings is contributing to existing human suffering,” and determining whether the existence of listings in the occupied territory has a direct connection to the larger dispute in the region.

Other companies on the list of scrutinized companies that boycott Israel include Luxembourg-based Betsah Invest, Cactus, UK-based Co-operative Group, and Turkey-based Guloguz Dis Deposu Ticaret Ve Pazarlama.

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