Tech, Trump and the New CSR Movement

It’s becoming very clear that President Trump has a problem with tech.

In the past few weeks, many of the world’s biggest tech companies have joined forces to protest his temporary immigration ban on seven, mostly-Muslim, countries.

There’s been an open letter co-authored by the likes of Google and Apple opposing the executive order. More than 1,800 IBM employees signed a petition to condemn their CEO Ginni Romerty’s support of Trump. Most recently, tech workers stormed the streets of Silicon Valley to highlight the damage the ban could do to the tech industry – and America as a whole. “We are all immigrants,” read the placards.

For many, the question is simply whether you’re on the Tech vs Trump bandwagon or not. But there are different issues at play. Talking to CNBC, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the protest is conflating two unrelated things: immigration policy with respect to seven countries; and what immigration policy should look like for high-skilled workers who are important to big tech firms.

While the debate is blurry, one thing is crystal clear: the tech industry’s attitude to corporate social responsibility (CSR), at least as we know it, is changing.

The Internet has been as important in formalising CSR as it has to the tech companies now rallying against Trump. As consumers became more conscientious, with freer access to information, corporations needed to toe the line. Initially, this was often through grandiose gestures, which whiffed of CSR for CSR’s sake. (Perhaps the biggest humdinger of recent years is the Volkswagen case, whereby the automaker systematically banged the drum on its supposedly eco-friendly cars while secretly poisoning the planet.) But the birth of social media meant people could start calling businesses out for inauthentic policies. CSR could no longer be a publicity stunt, only permeating a business’ outer core. It needed to become its lifeblood.

Companies like Unilever, with its comprehensive sustainability strategy, stand at the helm of this new world order. Yet, what’s happening in Silicon Valley is transcending CSR. It is political activism.

A global financial crisis, recession, austerity and Brexit have all dealt serious blows to consumer confidence in the last few years. What tech companies are increasingly recognising is that they can – and should – be leveraging their power to help alleviate insecurity at scale.

For too long, tech has been an exclusive club. From questionable jargon to suspect data usage, consumer mistrust abounded. But as we have crossed the innovation adoption chasm, times are changing. Sophisticated technology lines our pockets, while people are also getting smarter with their data. With the growth of apps like My Data Manager and GDPR enforcement coming into effect, this will only get better. The distribution of tech – and trust – is evening out.

Trump’s closed borders have become an emblem for what the global tech industry isn’t. Today, tech is about community. It’s about sharing and learning from each other in a responsible, honest way.

What’s more, it doesn’t take a macro issue like immigration for tech businesses – and their partners – to actively find ways to develop trust. My web hosting company is all about providing exceptional services for our clients, but we also seek to educate more broadly wherever possible. That could mean helping teach children about cyber security or just being honest with our clients about the cost of downtime.

Trump’s administration isn’t the first to publicly wrestle with issues at the intersection of tech and security. Consider the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks during Obama’s presidency. But for the first time, it is abundantly clear that in tech, attitudes to CSR are changing. Instead of aesthetics, it’s about activism – and we all have a part to play.

Robert Belgrave





All, 2017