On Thursday, the CEO of Seattle software company Chef defended the firm’s contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, after a former employee as a protest deleted open source projects used by Chef customers. In an open email to employees, Chef CEO Barry Crist said he had made a “principled decision” to work with US government agencies regardless of who’s in power.
Monday, Crist reversed course.
In a new blog post, Crist said that Chef won’t renew contracts with ICE and US Customs and Border Protection when they expire next year and will donate this year’s revenue from the contracts to charities that help families affected by the agencies’ family separation and detention policies. The ICE contract was valued at $95,500 for an 11-month period through August 2020. Chef declined to comment on the value of the CBP contract.
Crist wrote that though he personally opposes those policies, and many employees had expressed concerns, the company had declined to take a position. “I apologize for this,” Crist wrote. “I had hoped that traditional political checks and balances would provide remedy and that our relationship with our various government customers could avoid getting intermingled with these policies. However, it is clear that checks and balances have not provided relief to the fundamental issues of the policies in question.”
In the blog post, Crist also said the company will make unspecified changes to prevent disruptions like the one caused by the deletion of Chef-related open source projects last week.
Former Chef employee Seth Vargo deleted the projects, which he still maintained on two code-hosting sites, in protest of the ICE contract. The contract had been brought to light earlier in the week by activist Shanley Kane. Chef republished the code.
Deleting open source projects is unusual, but tech worker activism is becoming more common. Friday, 1,800 Amazon employees staged a walkout demanding that Amazon and other companies take greater action to combat climate change. Microsoft employees have protested the company’s work for ICE and the military with little success thus far. Google employees have successfully scuttled the company’s drone footage analysis work and plans to bid on a cloud computing contract with the Pentagon and continue to protest the company’s work with US immigration agencies.