Salesforce is facing legal action by 50 anonymous women, who have identified themselves as survivors of sex trafficking, and are seeking unspecified damages against the tech giant. The customer relations management (CRM) company has been accused of “sex trafficking, negligence and conspiracy” for creating the strategy that aided the notorious website Backpage build its brand.
The lawsuit, filed in a San Francisco court on Tuesday, alleges that billionaire Marc Benioff’s company was complicit in supporting the now-obsolete Backpage by providing customized database tools to market and remarket prostitutes to “pimps, johns and traffickers who had been underusing its trafficking services.”
Salesforce started working with Backpage in 2013, around the time 47 U.S. state attorney generals called the website a “hub of human trafficking.” Apparently, the public has an issue with the discovery because as of Wednesday, publicly-traded Salesforce stock shares fell by 4%.
The 50 women hail from such places as: Sacramento, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Fresno, Seattle, Anchorage, Phoenix, Chicago, New Orleans, Bangor, Minneapolis, Staten Island and Jacksonville.
They have alleged that they were kept in sexual slavery by pimps who used Backpage ads.
“Salesforce knew the scourge of sex trafficking because it sought publicity for trying to stop it. But at the same time, this publicly traded company was, in actuality, among the vilest of rogue companies, concerned only with their bottom line,” the suit alleges. “And human beings—many more than just these 50—were raped and abused because of it.”
“The Jane Does were forced, coerced, and made victims of sex trafficking by means of force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to themselves and others, including family members,” the lawsuit claims. “Salesforce committed acts at issue with malice, oppression, fraud, and duress.”
Salesforce, which has never participated in the Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies competition, is denying the claims, issuing a statement on Tuesday: “We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products and take these allegations seriously.”
In April of 2018, Backpage was finally shutdown after co-founder Michael Lacey was arrested for promoting prostitution by running ads for sexual services and laundering revenue from the site. Federal agents seized the website as part of an enforcement action by the FBI.
Backpage had shut down its adult section a year earlier. Lacey, Larkin and other Backpage executives had testified at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing. The men refused to answer questions.
The types of ads that had appeared in the adult section of Backpage — with their racy photos — migrated to the singles section. A federal law held websites accountable for knowingly facilitating human trafficking while ads were restricted to a phone number, photos and links to other websites.
Backpage had also been associated with the murders of young Black women who met strangers on the site.
It had a reputation for being a dangerous site for women and girls. About 73% of sex trafficking victims were known to be associated with the devious site.
Salesforce chose to do business with a company that didn’t protect women and girls, and that negates any claim of “advocacy” for women.