With 170,000 registered attendees and Metallica on the entertainment playbill, Salesforce’s Dreamforce is the biggest convention to hit San Francisco. So immigrant rights activists who oppose Salesforce’s contract with the U.S. government are scaling up accordingly–bringing an 800-pound, 14-by-10-foot cage to protest the detention of asylum seekers at the U.S. border.
This cage first debuted at Burning Man to protest data analytics firm Palantir’s work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)–the organization directly responsible for working with immigrants, and that includes the separation of families. Today, the cage has been rebranded to criticize a business relationship between Salesforce and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In March, the company announced a contract with CBP to “modernize its recruiting process, from hire to retire, and manage border activities and digital engagement with citizens.”
Activists from a number of organizations (including Fight for the Future, Color of Change, Demand Progress, Defending Rights and Dissent, Mijente, Presente.org, RAICES, and Sum of Us) have chosen a different means for engagement. It includes not only today’s protest at Dreamforce, but also an open letter to the CEO, and encouraging Salesforce customer companies to speak out against the contract.
“A lot of people are surprised when it’s brought to their attention,” says Evan Greer of Fight for the Future. She said organizers are especially focused on winning over companies that Salesforce will highlight during the conference. But demonstrators will reach out to individuals, too, such as handing out stickers they can wear. “We’re definitely going to be encouraging attendees to make their [views] felt as well,” she says.
I contacted Salesforce, which referred me to tweets by CEO and cofounder Marc Benioff from July, including one saying that he had reviewed how CBP uses its technology and that “Salesforce doesnt [sic] work with CBP regarding separation of families at the border.”
Greer rejects the argument, saying, “They can’t conduct those human rights violations without hiring people to carry that out.”
Salesforce presents an appealing target for activists for a number of reasons. It’s a flashy, high-flying tech company, housed in San Francisco’s new tallest building. But it’s also been a pioneer in corporate responsibility: Auditing payroll to ensure gender and racial pay equality, for instance, and starting a movement of companies pledging 1% of revenue, products, or employee time toward charitable work. (Fast Company named Salesforce one of the most innovative companies for social good in 2018.)
During his latest earnings call on August 29, Benioff, a prominent philanthropist in his own right, announced plans to create an office ethical and humane use of technology that will promote standards and guidelines for the industry.
“They could really be a leader in this space,” says Greer. “This is a company that has really positioned itself as [one] that cares about ethics in technology.”
This story is developing and has been updated.