The CEO of a big tech company suggested he may cut its Georgia presence if the state enacts a “religious liberty” law allowing same-sex marriage opponents to cite religious beliefs in denying services to gay couples.
UPDATE: On Friday, a Georgia state senator responded by accusing the CEO of “political antics” and doing business in nations that criminalize gay relations.
Salesforce chief Marc Benioff was among the most vocal business leaders fighting ‘religious liberty” legislation in Indiana last year. The Indiana bill passed, but was quickly amended in response to a firestorm of complaints, including some from businesses that warned the law would allow discrimination of their employees.
During a recent call with financial analysts, Benioff said: “we’re looking squarely at what’s going on in Georgia with House Bill 757, which means that we may have to reduce our investments in the state of Georgia, based on what we’re seeing with the state government there as well. And I hope that they see the light the way that the state of Indiana did.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that Benioff said in a CNBC interview that he was “worried” about the Georgia legislation and he called on Apple CEO Tim Cook to focus on fighting it.
Salesforce, based in San Francisco, has nearly 20,000 employees worldwide. Last year, it has more than 400 employees in the local region, according to a report in the AJC.
Supporters of the Georgia legislation say it doesn’t interfere with the business community.
“I want you to understand, this legislation is about equal protection and not discrimination,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus.
UPDATE: On Friday, state Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who has crafted another bill on the issue (Senate Bill 129), reacted to Benioff’s comments, saying “SalesForce does business in Singapore and India” where “they make homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment. It appears he has absolutely no problem doing business in and making money from countries where homosexuality is a crime. So let’s spare us all the political antics around this issue. Let’s have a serious debate, not these throwaway comments.”
UPDATE: A Salesforce spokeswoman emailed a statement to the AJC in response: “This discussion is about Georgia, where our local employees have asked us to get involved. We are not alone—more than 400 businesses have joined Georgia Prospers to oppose this bill in its current form. We were encouraged by comments from Governor Deal indicating that the bill is not in its final form. Salesforce believes in equality for all. Equal rights is an important issue, both in the U.S. and around the world, and we do whatever we can to protect our employees and customers from discrimination.”
In Georgia, Salesforce has a Buckhead office that includes Pardot, a tech business sold to what is now a Salesforce subsidiary by Atlanta entrepreneurs David Cummings and Adam Blitzer for nearly $100 million. Cummings used some of those proceeds to launch Atlanta Tech Village, which has become a top spot for local startups.
— Kristina Torres contributed to this report