Lawsuit Alleges Salesforce Aided's Sex Trafficking Business


Rather than using its technology to combat exploitation of sex workers, Salesforce delivered the tools to support, a site since shut down for enabling human trafficking and sexual abuse, according to a lawsuit filed this week in California Superior Court.

Fifty women said in a complaint filed in San Francisco that Backpage made possible their abuse and rape, and the Software-as-a-Service giant so well known for its philanthropic and human rights efforts should be held accountable for Backpage's illicit business.

[Related: As Salesforce Revenue Surges, Co-CEO Benioff Looks To Double The Business In Four Years]

Salesforce stock dipped Wednesday on news of the lawsuit, from an opening of $158.50 on the New York Stock Exchange to $152.39 midday, before slightly recovering to $154.92 at the time of this publication.

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Federal agents took down the classified advertising site in April of last year because of its adult services section, which included ads for prostitution and trafficking of minors. Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer later pleaded guilty to facilitating prostitution and money laundering.

"We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products and take these allegations seriously; however, we don't comment on pending litigation," a Salesforce spokesperson said in response to the suit.

"Salesforce knew the scourge of sex trafficking because it sought publicity for trying to stop it," according to the complaint, which describes Salesforce as "among the vilest of rogue companies, concerned only with their bottom line."

The lawsuit puts San Francisco-based Salesforce, and its CEO Marc Benioff, in an awkward position.

Salesforce is one of six companies involved in Business for Social Responsibility's Tech Against Trafficking initiative, described on its website as "a coalition of technology companies collaborating with global experts to help eradicate human trafficking using technology."

But the lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that Salesforce used its technology to enable human trafficking.

The Software-as-a-Service leader's tools allowed Backpage to maintain its "trafficker and pimp database" during a rough financial patch in 2013.

Salesforce didn't just sell Backpage an off-the-shelf solution. The company designed and implemented a custom database to support the website's operations in the U.S. and other countries.

That helped Backpage find new users, described in the lawsuit as "pimps, johns and traffickers—on three continents."