Hootsuite’s retreat from deal with U.S. agency ICE may put other companies on notice.
The decision by Vancouver-based tech giant Hootsuite to abruptly pull out of a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency following internal and public backlash should put corporate leaders on notice — be vigilant about who you do business with, experts say.
“There’s no question that corporate social and environmental responsibility issues are increasingly getting more attention — not only by business leaders, but company stakeholders, including employees,” said Christie Stephenson, executive director of the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics at UBC.
“And it’s clear, companies are needing to consider not only their own operations but the actions of partners and suppliers. With more attention to these issues, the stakes have been raised.”
Tom Keiser, CEO of Hootsuite, acknowledged Thursday that the social media management company’s partnership with ICE had led to a “divided company,” prompting the decision to sever ties.
The previous evening, a woman named Sam Anderson who identifies herself as a senior training specialist at Hootsuite, posted a Twitter thread saying many people at the company were upset.
“Been debating talking about this publicly because I don’t want to get fired, but it seems like the cat’s already out of the bag so whatever: yesterday Hootsuite signed a three-year deal with ICE,” the tweet began. “Over 100 employees have been extremely vocal in their opposition to this deal since it first came to light in June and it went through anyway.”
Anderson, who declined interview requests Thursday, went on to say that ICE’s “repeated human rights violations” were at odds with Hootsuite’s publicly stated values. Her post was retweeted thousands of times.
In recent years, ICE, which falls under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has come under fire from critics who say the tactics it uses to detain and deport migrants undermine civil liberties. It has drawn outrage for its role in separating migrant children from their families. It has also been criticized for using inland checkpoints and roving patrols to apprehend people.
Late Wednesday night, Hootsuite spokesperson Melanie Gaboriault told Business in Vancouver “Hootsuite is not entering into a deal with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
But a website that tracks U.S. government spending showed that the Department of Homeland Security had awarded a contract worth $508,832 to IT solutions provider FCN Inc., of Rockville, Md., for Hootsuite licences.
The contract, said to have begun Sept. 18, was set for one year with an option to renew for two additional years.
On Thursday, Keiser, the CEO, confirmed the company had, in fact, signed a contract with ICE after forming an internal committee and considering all points of view.
Then the company reversed course after further discussions.
“Over the last 24 hours there has been a broad emotional and passionate reaction from our people and this has spurred additional dialog. We have heard the lived experiences from our people and the hurt they are feeling,” he said.
“The decision has created a divided company, and this is not the kind of company I came to lead. I — and the rest of the management team — share the concerns our people have expressed. As a result, we have decided to not proceed with the deal with ICE.”
The company did not respond to followup questions from the Star, including why it had originally released a statement implying it had not entered into a deal with ICE.
Neither representatives from ICE nor FCN responded to requests for comment by deadline.
This is not the first time a tech company has received backlash for partnering with ICE.