(Bloomberg) -- Salesforce.com Inc.’s annual software conference in San Francisco, where it introduces new products and discusses its commitment to social causes, was interrupted for the second year in a row by protests against the company’s work with the U.S. government.
Co-Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff’s keynote speech was twice halted by activists complaining about the software maker’s contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that guards the U.S.-Mexico border and intercepts many immigrants. The first protester described Salesforce’s work as helping to support “concentration camps,” a reference to migrant detention facilities.
Benioff told the first protester he would get 30 seconds to speak, then be asked to leave. Salesforce put a 30-second clock on the multimedia screen at a convention center room where Benioff was giving his Dreamforce presentation. After the time elapsed, security escorted the protester out of the room.
“I want to tell you why I stopped the program and let him speak for 30 seconds,” Benioff said. “It’s because I value free speech in this country. I value everybody’s speech. When we’re talking about doing it together, all the voices have to be included. So I am so happy to hear from everyone today, who has every point of view and will take everything into consideration.”
When a second group of protesters interrupted Benioff’s remarks, he didn’t give them time to speak.
Benioff has made clear in the past that he would not cancel Salesforce’s contract with CBP, which he says doesn’t play a role in the agency’s enforcement of controversial immigration policies. He has described Salesforce, the leader in customer-relations software for the cloud, as a good corporate citizen, having donated 1% of its equity, products, and employees’ time to philanthropic causes -- a model that has been emulated by many younger software companies. Still, hundreds of Benioff’s employees called on him to reconsider the contract in 2018 and activists have continued to speak out against the deal. Last year, protesters brought a cage outside the Dreamforce conference to speak out against the CBP contract.
Apart from the protests, Salesforce announced greater advancements with its voice-based artificial intelligence system, an expanded partnership with Amazon.com Inc.’s cloud-computing unit and more functionality in its Customer 360 initiative, which lets corporate clients unify data about their customers in one place.
Benioff later held a fireside chat with Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook. The two executives discussed the growing partnership between their companies as more clients use iPhones for work; Apple’s commitment to user data privacy; and Cook’s focus on sustainability efforts. Cook also joined the conversation about immigration. He mentioned his strong support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy that lets some people who migrated to the U.S. as children legally stay in the country.
(Updates with Cook’s appearance in the final paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the name of the agency in the second paragraph.)
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