Dozens of groups, including the ACLU, NAACP, and the Economic Policy Institute, wrote letters to some of America’s largest tech companies on Friday, demanding that they free their employees from forced arbitration. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Uber were among the companies whose CEOs received the letters.
Friday’s letters come over eight months after the groups’ first letter to tech CEOs, which were sent in February of this year, calling for the same thing: to eliminate the forced arbitration clause from their employee agreements. Forced arbitration legally prevents an employee from having their complaint heard by a jury. IBM, Dell, Intel, United Tech, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, HP, Oracle, Netflix, Lyft, Instagram, Tech Data and Xerox also received Friday’s letter.
The practice of forced arbitration requires workers to contractually agree not to sue their employer, which often includes class action lawsuits. Instead, disputes are settled by a third-party arbiter, often behind closed doors.
“Much has happened since we first wrote to you,” the groups wrote in their letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. “We have seen how forced arbitration clauses have been used in a variety of ways to hide wrongdoing, from companies attempting to silence claims of sexual harassment to stopping customers who have been injured on their products from accessing justice. Your silence is contributing to a culture of secrecy.”
Public Citizen, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the public interest and against corporate interests, was among the 47 groups that penned the letters on Friday. The nonprofit also created a letter that was delivered to Amazon in May urging the company to scrap its forced arbitration agreements. It was signed by thousands of activists.
“As a service that is used by millions of people worldwide, Amazon has the power to influence other companies with its actions,” the letter stated. “Amazon is currently seeking to build a second corporate headquarters, with one of its criteria that the location must be a diverse and vibrant environment. And as a tech company that prides itself on a progressive work environment, removing forced arbitration provisions for all claims related to the workplace and employees should be no brainer.”
Amazon told Gizmodo in February that employees never had forced arbitration clauses, but in May, a spokesperson confirmed that at least some of its contractors do have clauses in their contracts. Facebook confirmed to Gizmodo in February that it does force its employees into arbitration.
While most tech companies remain tight-lipped about the nature of their employment agreements, forced arbitration is hardly an uncommon practice. And it is one that directly contributes to issues of systemic discrimination and misconduct within companies, quieting employees and keeping issues out of the public eye. For companies that have made such sweeping declarations to improve their discriminatory and toxic work culture, there is a startling hypocrisy in continuing to shove these issues out of the spotlight. Issues that might inspire others to speak up, or let them know that they aren’t alone.
“Tech companies promote themselves as responsible companies in the marketplace. Yet, these companies are forcing workers who are victims of discrimination or harassment into a privatized system of justice where they have a very high likelihood of losing,” Remington A. Gregg, counsel for civil justice and consumer rights for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, said in a statement. “This is not a good look for these companies.”