Lawsuit accuses Salesforce of facilitating sex trafficking

Fifty women have accused tech giant Salesforce of helping the now-shuttered website Backpage facilitate sex trafficking, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The plaintiffs, who filed anonymously as “Jane Does,” are described as women who were "sexually exploited and trafficked through Backpage." The women are from major cities across the country, including New Orleans, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago and Phoenix, among others.

The lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court accuses Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff of overseeing a strategy where the company claimed to be fighting trafficking but “Behind the scenes ... kept taking Backpage’s money and supporting it with the CRM [customer relations management] database of pimps, johns, and traffickers that Backpage needed to operate.”

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Salesforce, the lawsuit claims, provided Backpage with operational support to “maximize not only customer acquisition and retention, but marketing strategies to those customers as well.”

“Behind closed doors, Salesforce’s data tools were actually providing the backbone of Backpage’s exponential growth,” the complaint states. “With Salesforce’s guidance, Backpage was able to use Salesforce’s tools to market to new 'users'—that is, pimps, johns, and traffickers—on three continents.”

Salesforce told The Hill on Wednesday that it takes the allegations seriously, but declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products," a Salesforce spokesperson said in a statement.

The lawsuit is accusing Salesforce of actively managing marketing campaigns for traffickers and keeping their sales data in a cloud storage system.

The plaintiffs are asking for unspecified damages and for Salesforce to assume some of the financial burdens of trafficking rather than leaving it entirely to “tax dollars, charities and churches.”

Backpage pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges in Texas in April 2018, while the company’s CEO pleaded guilty to money laundering charges and former sales director pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges relating to a scheme to give free advertising to sex workers to keep them from using competitors.

Some sex workers have claimed online platforms such as Backpage were vital for screening clients and establishing safer procedures.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisClinton attacks on Gabbard become flashpoint in presidential race Poll: Biden holds 10-point lead nationally over Warren Trump declines to participate in Weather Channel 2020 climate change special MORE (D-Calif.), a presidential candidate and one of several Democratic senators who supported the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), has defended the shutdown of the site, arguing it was advertising the sale of minors.