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Marc Benioff calls for “ethical and humane use of technology”

Marc Benioff calls for “ethical and humane use of technology”

Despite small protesters over its contract with border agency, the Salesforce founder used his keynote address to talk about “ethical and humane use of technology”

Marc Benioff (Salesforce)

Marc Benioff (Salesforce)

Credit: Salesforce

Speaking during his opening keynote at Dreamforce Marc Benioff, the Salesforce co-founder, was in full evangelical mode, speaking for 20 minutes about his company’s values and the importance of “ethical and humane use of technology”.

Directly addressed the camera, instead of his usual practice of walking around the room as he talked, the co-CEO said: “This is a very important time for the world, we all know that. It is a time when we are taking personal action to change the world and we know we are not relying on our government leaders or even our NGO leaders, or our business leaders. We are coming together.

“We can have a structured conversation not just with our own employees myopically, but by bringing in the key advisers, supporters and pundits and philosophers and everybody necessary to ask the question if what we are doing today is ethical and humane.

“We are all going to have to ask that question in the technology industry and every company and CEO better be ready to answer that question through their values,” he added, to raucous applause.

The vendor is currently recruiting for a chief ethics officer to lead its office of ethical and humane use of technology. Chief equality officer Tony Prophet is leading the efforts for the time being.

Some may take offence to the idea of Benioff speaking about the values of “humane” use of technology while Salesforce refuses to sever its ties with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which has become associated with President Trump’s strong anti-immigration agenda.

An open letter was issued on the topic back in July, which was signed by 32 Salesforce customers, reading: “Last week, one of the largest consulting and management firms in the world cut ties with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. McKinsey and Company showed just how easy it is to stay true to its values.

"McKinsey’s contract did not deal directly with immigration enforcement but the company still took a stance stating they, “will not, under any circumstances, engage in any work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.

"Meanwhile, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, has claimed since the company’s contract with CBP does not deal directly with activities at the US-Mexico border, Salesforce will not drop their contract."

Benioff responded to the claims at the time by stating that he was opposed to the "immoral" practice of separating families at the border, but maintained that Salesforce doesn’t work with CBP “regarding separation of families”.

The Guardian recently saw emails from Benioff to Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (Raices), written at the height of the crisis, saying he couldn’t jump on a call because: “I am sorry I’m actually scuba diving right now.”

Immigration rights activists even started the first day of Dreamforce this week by erecting a cage outside of the Moscone Centre, with a sign reading “detention centre powered by Salesforce”, to protest the vendor’s ongoing contract with the agency.

Inside, Benioff continued: “For each company, we have to listen and we are watching for companies that are not listening to their key stakeholders, not listening to their customers, not listening to their employees, not listening to the kids.

“For them you watch the executives walk out, the employees walk out, the customers walk out as a vote of no confidence against their values. So we stand here and say we are going to commit to a higher level to express our values and we know what are the most important things to us.”

Speaking more broadly about equality, Benioff also spoke about how “everybody has to come into the fourth industrial revolution. It’s inclusive capitalism, which means we are all going together into the future and no one will be left behind.”

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