Salesforce staff ask CEO to revisit ties with US border agency

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 26 Jun 2018

An employee walks through a hall inside the Inc. office at the new Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The building, the tallest office tower west of the Mississippi river, opened with a ceremony crowded with local officials on Tuesday, representing the indelible mark San Francisco's largest private employer has made on the city. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Hundreds of Inc employees signed a letter to chief executive officer Marc Benioff criticising the company’s contracts with the US Customs and Border Protection agency, the latest in a series of staff protests at technology firms over government work. 

The letter said staff recently learned that the CBP is using three Salesforce products to recruit and “manage border activities”. The agency is one of several that implement and enforce Trump administration immigration policies at the US-Mexico border, including one that separated families. President Donald Trump signed an order stopping the practice last week, although there’s confusion over how authorities will handle enforcement and reunite families. 

“Given the inhuman separation from their parents currently taking place at the border, we believe that our core value of Equality is at stake and that Salesforce should re-examine our contractual relationship with CBP and speak out against its practices,” the letter reads, according to a copy viewed by Bloomberg News. 

More than 650 Salesforce employees have signed the petition since it began circulating last week, according to a person familiar with the company who asked not to be identified speaking about private matters. The staff had scheduled a meeting on Monday afternoon local time with Tony Prophet, Salesforce’s chief equality officer, this person said. 

“One of the greatest things about being part of the Salesforce family is that we proudly foster an open exchange of ideas and dialogue,” a Salesforce spokeswoman said. “We’re proud of our employees for being passionate and vocal, and will continue the conversation on this and other important matters.” The company is not working with CBP “regarding the separation of families at the border”, she added. 

The San Francisco-based cloud company joins the growing ranks of tech giants with employees objecting to the way their products are used by the US government. Staff at Google compelled the company to back away from a Pentagon contract using Google’s artificial intelligence software. Employees at Microsoft Corp have complained about a contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. More than 100 Inc workers wrote to CEO Jeff Bezos asking the company to stop selling facial-recognition software to police forces, according to The Hill. 

Salesforce provides the CBP with its Community Cloud, Service Cloud and Einstein Analytics, an AI tool, the employee letter said. Service Cloud is software for managing customer and field support. The product is the company’s second-largest by revenue, worth US$848mil (RM3.41bil) in the three months ended April 30. CBP is using the tool to “drive efficiencies around how US border activities are managed” and handle citizen feedback, according to a Salesforce announcement in early March. 

Community cloud helps companies and other organizations build online groups for customers, partners and employees. The border agency is using that software to revamp its human resources capabilities, including accessing information about benefits and payroll. Salesforce’s Analytics tools help CBP with recruiting. 

Internal dissent about working with CBP is particularly thorny for Salesforce because it pits the need to maintain blockbuster growth against the self-styled progressive values of the company and its chief. Benioff, the Salesforce CEO and founder, is an outspoken force on a range on social issues, including immigration. In 2015, he was a vocal critic of legislation in Indiana that would make it easier for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. This month, he retweeted two messages that called out the CBP for housing children in “cages” and not providing more information about the detention facilities. In their letter, the employees appeal to the executive’s reputation. 

“Many of us choose to work at Salesforce because of Salesforce’s reputation as a company that stands up against injustice,” the letter reads. “We want our work at Salesforce to have a positive impact on our friends and neighbours, not to make us complicit in the inhumane treatment of vulnerable people.” 

The employee uproar comes in the midst of Salesforce’s efforts to capture more government contracts. Chief operating officer Keith Block said on a conference call with analysts in May that the company signed its biggest public-sector deal ever with the US Department of Agriculture, which uses the company’s Service Cloud to communicate with constituents. — Bloomberg

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