SHRM Announces a New Initiative and People are Mad

The Society for Human Resource Management found itself in some hot water recently. Earlier this week, the organization announced its Getting Talent Back to Work pledge, a national initiative designed to promote the hiring of people with criminal backgrounds.

According to the announcement, the participating organizations are pledging to provide opportunities to qualified people with a criminal background who deserve a second chance.

“This is a group we, as business leaders, cannot afford to overlook as one in three adults in the United States currently has a criminal background,” said Johnny Taylor, CEO of SHRM. “Not only is it the right thing to do … but it is becoming imperative as businesses continue to experience recruiting difficulty at an alarming rate.”

Many believe an initiative like this is certainly necessary given the shortcomings of the nation’s prison industrial complex, which disproportionately affects minority populations and can often result in high rates of recidivism. These two factors alone significantly impact the likelihood of employment following release. According to SHRM, nearly 700,000 people are released from jail each year. While this doesn’t equal the approximately 6.9 million unfilled jobs currently plaguing employers, it would certainly make a dent.

But in terms of the SHRM announcement, what’s created something of a stir is the association’s decision to partner with Koch Industries, a privately-held company with businesses spanning every sector imaginable (from cattle farming to “smart” flooring) that’s owned by Charles and David Koch, two of the wealthiest men in America. The Koch brothers are no strangers to controversy.


For example, the pair founded a group called Americans for Prosperity, which, according to its website, “exists to recruit educate and mobilize citizens in support of the policies and goals of a free society at the local, state and federal level.” Launched in 2004, the organization is responsible for helping to legitimize the Tea Party movement in 2010, opposes efforts to fight global warming (including advocating for the Keystone XL pipeline), opposes unions and more.

Opposition to the partnership between SHRM and Koch Industries can be seen across social media. Many of the comments include hashtag #fixitshrm (which was created before this announcement). While some of the posts recognized the importance of the initiative, they question why SHRM, a non-partisan organization, would link up with Koch brothers, who are known for promoting a libertarian agenda that can include eyebrow-raising practices.

HRDive announced that SHRM has responded to the backlash with the following statement:

“Our choice to partner with key advocates on this movement was driven by the bigger picture: 650,000 people leave incarceration each year, but their unemployment rate is five times the national average at a time when American employers face a critical talent shortage. We believe that people who have served their time deserve the dignity of a job.

In all our decision making, we aim to elevate the HR profession and help create strong, inclusive, people-focused workplaces. This requires the efforts of not only HR professionals, but also business leaders and policy advocates of all stripes. The only way to succeed in this endeavor is to remain firmly nonpartisan and work with the entities that can most effectively help us reach our goals.”

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