Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters refuses to do business with Salesforce over their contract with US Customs and Border Protection

By Tim Nelson
July 27, 2018
Courtesy of @wreckingballcoffee

The Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has separated families at the border and locked children in massive enclosures inside abandoned Walmarts. There have been widespread condemnation and protests against not only the government organizations involved in this odious work, but the tech companies who aid and abet their mission as well.

That’s inspired one San Francisco coffee roaster to take a stand, even if it means turning down a sizable contract.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters are turning down an opportunity to work with Salesforce, a San Francisco-based software company that’s taken heat for its work with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The contract would’ve positioned Wrecking Ball as the exclusive provider of free coffee to attendees of Dreamforce, the company’s annual three-day conference that boasted roughly 161,000 attendees last year.

Though the deal would’ve netted them $40,000, Wrecking Ball co-owners co-owners Nick Cho (who immigrated to the US at a young age) and Trish Rothgeb (the daughter of a Filipino immigrant) decided to take a stand once they became aware of Salesforce’s work with CBP. Though announced in March, their connection gained widespread attention after the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services rejected Salesforce’s $250,000 donation on the grounds that they were supporting the very government organizations RAICES fights against.

As Cho describes it, the situation typifies the kind of challenges that small businesses face when figuring out how to reconcile their ethics with their expenses. “I can say that $40,000 would pay for our raw coffee supply for about two months,” Cho told the Chronicle. “Are we going to, as a lot of people do, turn a blind eye and say the world is dirty, nobody’s perfect, or is this a situation where we reject a $40,000 opportunity and make a statement?”

Cho and Rothgeb opted for the latter option. This week, they submitted a new proposal through Salesforce’s experiential marketing partner agency George P. Johnson stating they’ll sling coffee at Dreamforce if and only if Salesforce cancelled its contract with CBP. Such a move is “a precondition of our agreement to provide coffee services at Dreamforce 2018,” as Wrecking Ball put it.

Though Cho described the decision to turn down $40k as “scary,” Wrecking Ball isn’t going it completely alone when it comes to calling Salesforce out for its CBP contract. Last month, 650 of the company’s employees sent an open letter to CEO Marc Benioff criticizing the partnership to “drive efficiencies around how US border activities are managed” and thousands of Salesforce customers have signed a petition condemning the ties to CBP. For what it’s worth, Benioff took to Twitter to state that Salesforce’s work doesn’t involve any activities specifically related to family separation. He also clarified that the company has no working relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the post-9/11 Department of Homeland Security sub-organization notorious for doing the bulk of the government’s deportation work.

Wrecking Ball is a relatively small coffee operation, but their decision could end up making waves. Despite just one coffee shop to their name (in addition to a roastery and headquarters), Cho and Rothgeb wield a decent level of influence in the coffee community if social media metrics are to be believed, and they’re outspoken advocates of representation and inclusivity in the coffee community. The praise they’ve received for their stand so far should more than offset any bad Yelp reviews from angry conservatives.

Time will tell if other coffee shops or catering businesses will follow suit and refuse to partner with companies who do work with CBP and/or ICE, but it does go to show that the culinary world can do more to support immigrants beyond their hiring practices. At a time when customers are paying more attention to the ethics and practices of coffee shops than ever, here’s hoping that these sorts of principled stands catch on.