Microsoft employees are showing solidarity with workers at GitHub, a subsidiary of the company, who want their employer to cancel contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It’s the latest demonstration of employee activism, an escalating trend in which tech workers pressure their employers to take stands on political issues.
Anonymous Microsoft employees published a letter Thursday calling on the company to cancel all of its contracts with ICE, claiming that selling products to the agency amounts to an implicit endorsement of the policies that it enforces. Microsoft has more than $8 million worth of contracts with ICE, according to records obtained by Recode.
The Microsoft employees behind the letter are supporting a call in a separate letter from GitHub employees earlier this week to sever ties with ICE.
The Washington Post obtained that letter, in which GitHub employees demand the company’s leadership team “immediately cancel its contract with ICE, no matter the cost.”
GitHub CEO Nat Friedman said in a blog post that the contract in question dates back to 2016, when ICE purchased a license of GitHub Enterprise Server through a reseller partner. The license came up for renewal in September, igniting the current debate. Friedman said revenue from the purchase was less than $200,000 and “not financially material for our company.” He pledged to donate $500,000 to nonprofits that help immigrant communities targeted by the current administration.
“We recognize that ICE is responsible for both enforcing the U.S. immigration policies with which we passionately disagree, as well as policies that are critical to our society, such as fighting human trafficking,” Friedman said in the blog post. “We do not know the specific projects that the on-premises GitHub Enterprise Server license is being used with, but recognize it could be used in projects that support policies we both agree and disagree with.”
Microsoft acquired GitHub for $7.5 billion in 2018. GitHub operates a popular software development platform and coding community of more than 28 million developers.
Microsoft employees last year wrote a letter addressed to CEO Satya Nadella, demanding that the company end its contract with ICE.
Brad Smith, Microsoft president, explained the company’s reasoning for continuing to serve the government, despite concerns raised by employees, in an on-stage interview with me in September.
“Our view is, we actually don’t think it makes sense to just cancel contracts in democratically elected societies and start unplugging people from technology,” Smith said. “In part, we do feel that way as a matter of principle. The government was elected, the companies were not.”
Microsoft has shown resistance to some federal immigration policies, such as the lawsuit challenging President Trump’s decision to cancel the status of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Microsoft is one of several companies navigating this new era of employee activism. Amazon employees have raised similar concerns over the company’s work with the government and fossil fuel companies. In September, Seattle software company Chef announced it will not renew contracts with ICE and Customs and Border Protection after employees protested the partnerships.