In a bid to avoid controversy, San Francisco-based tech giant Salesforce has found itself in the middle of one.
Following allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Four Barrel Coffee co-founder Jeremy Tooker, the contractor in charge of hiring food vendors for Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce event sought to avoid association with the coffee company, who’d provided its services at the conference in years past .
As a result, Wrecking Ball Coffee co-owners Nick Cho and Trish Rothgeb were contacted by George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, hired by the company to provide catering for the annual September event, which draws almost 200,000 attendees.
But, as Cho and Rothgeb excitedly began to write up their $40,000 proposal — an attractive sum for a small business like Wrecking Ball — to serve coffee at the event, a news story caught their attention: the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) had declined a $250,000 donation from Salesforce based on its contracts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“When it comes to supporting oppressive, inhumane and illegal policies, we want to be clear: The only right action is to stop,” said a letter signed by RAICES Executive Director Jonathan Ryan, directed at Salesforce.
Cho and Rothgeb rethought their participation in the conference, in part for personal reasons. Rothgeb’s father immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines, while Cho came to America from Korea as a young child. The duo decided to make their bid to serve coffee at the event contingent upon Salesforce’s withdrawal from the CBP contract. They have not heard back from the contractor since the proposal was submitted on Wednesday.
“We had to decide whether we’d turn a blind eye, the way many in our situation have done before us, or to take a stand and make a statement,” said Cho.
In addition to opposition from Cho, Rothgeb, and RAICES, employees of Salesforce are reacting to the contract with protests outside their offices, by signing a petition, and penning an open letter to CEO Marc Benioff demanded that the contract be dismissed. Meanwhile, Benioff stands by the company’s choice to engage with CPB, tweeting, “Salesforce always will be true to our core values. We don’t work with CBP regarding separation of families. CBP is a customer & follows our TOS. We dont have an agreement with ICE.”
Cho says the reaction from the coffee community so far has been positive, but he and Rothgeb are bracing themselves for a backlash. “As is apropos to 2018 we have seen some right-wing responses here and there, in the comments,” said Cho, who also noted a few new one-star Yelp reviews. “We’ve let our cafe staff know to be on the lookout for someone who might oppose our position and want to do something about it.”
“Unfortunately that’s the reality of the times we live in,” said Cho. “We recognize that the thing that would be a big statement is the risk and sacrifice we’d be making in giving up that opportunity.”
And, says Cho, “We are pretty scared, we’re pretty nervous. As much as we want to be a source of inspiration, we’re also on the inside kind of terrified. We’re opening ourselves up to a lot of potential threats from a few different directions.”
“Maybe people don’t do stuff like that because they don’t see enough other people doing it, making it a safer choice in the future,” said Cho. “We’ll take a little more risk because we are leaders in the coffee community, and because the possible rewards are worth it.”
- SF coffee shop turns down Salesforce contract in immigration protest [SF Chronicle]
- RAICES rejects $250,000 donation [SF Chronicle]