Earlier in the week, around 650 Salesforce staffers wrote to CEO Marc Benioff to voice concern that the firm’s Service Cloud and other offerings are being used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) :
As members of the Salesforce Ohana, we believe that Salesforce must stand with the families facing irrevocable and unimaginable harm at the hands of CBP. We believe that the moral and ethical emergency that CBP’s practices have created and in which we have become complicit compel us as an Ohana and you as our CEO to take action by re-examining our contractual relationship with CBP and speaking out against its current practices.
At the time, Salesforce spokespeople emphasised that the contract with CBP, announced in March, before President Trump’s family separation policy was enforced, was about modernising recruitment processes and to “manage border activities and digital engagement with citizens”.
That was a point Benioff personally returned to yesterday in an internal email to all Salesforce employees:
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection contract with Salesforce is for its recruiting efforts and correspondence with U.S. citizens and lawmakers. We are not working with CBP regarding the separation of families at the border, nor are any Salesforce services being used by CBP for this purpose.
I'm opposed to separating children from their families at the border. It is immoral. I have personally financially supported legal groups helping families at the border. I also wrote to the White House to encourage them to end this horrible situation.
Benioff, who has spearheaded Salesforce’s social responsibility culture, added a note of praise for his activist employees:
I have heard the Ohana's concerns and I’m very proud of all our employees for organizing actions supportive of families at the border.
Salesforce Chief Operating Officer Keith Block announced the donation of $1 million to organizations working to re-unite families at the border, with a further commitment from its non-profit arm Salesforce.org to match efforts by company employees engaged in related activities:
A few hours earlier, I had the chance to talk to Block on a visit to London during which time we discussed the situation. He explained:
The most important thing is that we have a culture. We have a very transparent culture. We have no information hierarchy. Every one of the 30,000 people in our company, they have a voice, and we want to encourage them to have a voice. I think that's what makes us very, very different. When our employees speak up, we have to listen. We can't ignore them, I mean, that's just not who we are. Some companies do that. That's not us.
In the letter to Benioff, the Salesforce employees asked for the CEO to re-examine the contractual relationship with CBP. Block told me:
I think we've been very, very public about who our customer is, what they're doing, the technology. We're not associated with what's happened, which is absolutely tragic. I don't think anybody likes to see family members separated under any circumstance. We will continue to evaluate the situation and see what happens.
As for the $1 million donation, he explained:
We want to act consistent with our values. We want our employees to embrace those values. We want our corporation to embrace our values.
As the saying goes, put your money where your mouth is - and that’s what Salesforce has done here. Philanthropy is hard-wired into the corporate DNA and has been since the founding days of the firm, most notably via the 1/1/1 pledge whereby Salesforce donates time and money to charitable causes.
As with Microsoft before it, Salesforce has had to act quickly to reassure its employees - and the wider world - about the nature of its involvement with border agencies. They won’t be the last.
I spoke with Keith Block about a lot more than the border situation. Watch out for more to come on diginomica and diginomica/government shortly.