Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce among leading tech firms with government contracts tied to immigrant detention
By Brett Wilkins
As much of the world recoils in horror at continuing reports of refugees, including young children, being imprisoned, abused and even dying in US concentration camps, scores of businesses big and small are profiting handsomely from this unconscionable atrocity. In addition to the usual suspects in the prison-industrial complex like Geo Group and CoreCivic, dozens of medical, financial services transportation and telecom companies also have government contracts to provide services to the prisons. The tech sector is no exception.
Last month, hundreds of employees at the Boston-based e-commerce furniture company Wayfair made headlines with a letter urging cancelation of a $200,000 contract for bedroom furniture bound for a Carrizo Springs, Texas facility where the government plans to imprison as many as 3,000 migrant children. “We believe that the current actions of the United States and their contractors at the Southern border do not represent an ethical business partnership Wayfair should choose to be a part of,” the letter states. “We believe that by selling these (or any) products… we are enabling [human rights] violations and are complicit in furthering the inhumane actions of our government.”
Wayfair’s billionaire CEO, Niraj Shah, rejected the demands of the #WayfairWalkout employees and instead announced a $100,000 donation to the Red Cross, which isn’t actually involved in supporting detained migrants. While the #WayfairWalkout has garnered the most media attention so far, Wayfair is far from the only internet-based or tech company profiting from what the United Nations recently said likely amounts to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that is prohibited under international law.” Here are some of the other leading tech firms with US Customs and Border Protection, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other Department of Homeland Security agencies.
- Amazon and Palantir — A group of concerned Amazon employees has been urging the company since last year to cut ties with ICE. Amazon has partnered with Palantir, the data analysis firm co-founded by billionaire investor and Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel, to provide facial recognition software to government and law enforcement agencies. Palantir, whose contract is worth $53 million, runs on Amazon Web Services. The company was also paid $39 million for the “operations and maintenance” of FALCON, its system for tracking immigrants. “In the face of this immoral US policy, and the US’ increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE,” Amazon employees wrote in a June 2018 letter to CEO Jeff Bezos.
- Salesforce — The San Francisco-based cloud computing company has made positive headlines for its philanthropic endeavors and for supporting measures that other tech companies opposed, such as a corporate tax to fund homeless services. However, the company has come under fire for a lucrative contract with CBP. Once again, concerned employees spoke out: “We are particularly concerned about the use of Service Cloud to manage border activities,” a June 2018 letter to CEO Marc Benioff signed by over 650 Salesforce workers states. “Given the inhumane separation of children from their parents currently taking place at the border, we believe that our core value of Equality is at stake and that Salesforce should reexamine our contractual relationship with CBP and speak out against its practices.”
- Microsoft — The world’s biggest software company, which handles ICE’s data processing, also saw the circulation of a letter signed by hundreds of employees denouncing the company’s complicity in government crimes. “We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE,” the letter said. “As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.” Still, Microsoft had said it was “proud” of the work it was doing for ICE as part of its $19.4 million contract.
- Hewlett-Packard Enterprises — The HP spinoff won a $75 million contract to manage CBP’s network operations center, and also received $39 million from ICE even while declaring that it “is opposed to any policy that separates children from their families.” Meanwhile, HP’s consumer branch condemned the Trump administration’s migrant family separation policy.
- Dell Federal Systems — The Texas-based company has $22 million in active contracts, most of them for software licenses, with ICE. Dell also provides support for Microsoft products utilized by the agency.
- Comcast, Time-Warner — Both companies provide internet service to ICE facilities.
- Motorola — Wear Your Voice reports the telecommunications giant has received more than $18 million for multiple GPS and communications projects.
- Pen-Link — ICE signed a $2.4 million contract with this little-known surveillance company that mines communications data and provides “real-time” tracking.
This list is far from exhaustive; many other tech and tech-related companies big and small are also profiting from migrant detention.
Ethics In Tech is heartened by the actions of concerned tech company workers who have mustered the courage to speak out against human rights crimes in which their employers are complicit. We implore all companies, especially those in the technology sector, to cut ties with CBP, ICE and any other government agencies involved in operating migrant concentration camps. Throughout modern history tech companies have been complicit in the most grievous crimes against humanity — think IBM and the Holocaust — but today’s tech employees are increasingly standing up and speaking out against reprehensible policies and actions from which their employers are profiting. We encourage all tech workers of conscience to continue this auspicious trend.
Brett Wilkins is an Ethics In Tech board member and independent author whose work, which focuses on issues of war and peace and human rights, is archived at www.brettwilkins.com.