Marc Benioff probably never imagined that the company he built based on a “family” culture could be entangled with supporting a client well-known for sex trafficking. Recently, 50 women sued Salesforce for playing an integral role in enabling Backpage.com to expand its online operations and reach. They claim that Backpage simply wouldn’t have been able to enslave nearly the amount of women they did had Salesforce not supported the effort.
Perhaps Larry Page and Sergey Brin said it best as they were deciding on a company motto – “Don’t Be Evil”. With the power of software comes great responsibility. However, in today’s unicorn economy and insatiable drive by egomaniac CEOs to reach a trillion dollars in market capitalization, ethical business practices can fall by the wayside if they slow revenue growth.
It’s easy to point fingers in this particular case. Did Backpage truthfully communicate with Salesforce about their business and intentions? Did Salesforce personnel perform adequate diligence to understand the types of activities Backpage was involved in? Does Salesforce corporate have a code of conduct and procedures to follow when a prospective client is questionable?
It seems to be the case that Backpage’s activities were well publicized for years and in fact scrutinized openly in the media, yet Salesforce went ahead and even upsold its client to take on additional solutions and services. Benioff’s drive to reach his next $10 billion in annual revenue was simply too strong for any internal team to shy away from new business, regardless of how shady. Salesforce’s actions beg the question, are Silicon Valley companies and their CEOs so deluded by their lives of grandeur such that not one person in their organization is willing to raise a hand when witnessing something unethical?
While it’s impossible to know every detail to this lawsuit and identify fault, one thing is for sure, Salesforce will be tightening up its Know Your Customer policies and procedures.