Hundreds of Salesforce employees object to NFT plans

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The company logo for Salesforce.com is displayed on the Salesforce Tower in New York City, U.S., March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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  • Workers at tech giant Salesforce object to NFT plans
  • Hundreds sign letter of protest, citing environmental and economic concerns
  • Salesforce says it will hold a listening session with employees

LOS ANGELES, Feb 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of Salesforce employees globally are rebelling against plans by the U.S. enterprise software giant to enter the non-fungible token (NFT) market, according to internal documents seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Salesforce told employees last week it was exploring a series of NFT initiatives, including an "NFT Cloud" which could help companies around the world create and sell NFTs - a kind of digital asset often linked to an image or piece of artwork, which is usually bought with cryptocurrencies.

More than 400 employees have signed on to an open letter which was penned after the company's announcement, and is being shared in internal messaging channels.

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It is addressed to Salesforce's co-CEOs, and raises concerns about the environmental and economic impact of NFTs, calling them "unregulated, highly speculative financial assets".

The NFT market has exploded over the past year, with NFT sales soaring past $24.9 billion in 2021, compared to just under $95 million the year before, according to market tracker DappRadar.

Celebrities are increasingly buying and launching their own NFTs, with brands including Pepsi, Universal Music, and the National Basketball Association also getting into the market.

NFTs have been criticized for their carbon footprint as well as for facilitating risky speculation and having loose fraud protections.

One Salesforce employee who signed the letter threatened to quit if the NFT plan was realized. "I'll find a company that lives by its stated values," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, asking not to use his name to protect his identity.

Some employees expressed shock in internal chats that the plans were announced just as Salesforce debuted a major advertisement at the Super Bowl, featuring actor Matthew McConaughey and touting a commitment to sustainability.

Other workers voiced support for the plan, saying Salesforce could help to responsibly expand the NFT ecosystem, and guide its customers through the emerging market.

A Salesforce spokesperson said in emailed comments that "our core values guide everything we do, including the development of our products. We welcome our employees' feedback and are proud to foster a culture of trust that empowers them to raise diverse points of view."

COMPANY VALUES

Tech experts who have been critical of NFTs were not surprised by the blowback against Salesforce.

"There's a risk for any organization considering NFTs," said Alex de Vries, an economist tracking blockchain's environmental impact, whose research was cited in the employee letter.

He pointed to a recent decision by the conservation group World Wildlife Fund to abandon an NFT project after coming under fire by environmentalists.

But there are ways to build NFTs responsibly, he added, such as avoiding energy-intensive blockchains and instead using so-called "proof of stake" blockchains that consume a fraction of the energy.

John Reed, the former chief of the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission Office of Internet Enforcement, said that workers should be concerned about getting involved in such a volatile and loosely regulated financial asset.

"I would certainly think about working somewhere else," he said in a phone interview.

The employee letter enumerates how the NFT market might undercut each of Salesforce's five stated core values: trust, customer success, innovation, equality, and sustainability.

"The amount of scams and fraud in the NFT space is overwhelming," it reads, also criticizing the carbon footprint of NFTs and citing research showing the financial benefits of NFTs are unevenly distributed.

"We implore you to reconsider," the letter continues, noting that the employee blowback "could result in increased attrition".

The Salesforce spokesperson said the company planned on holding a "listening session" with employees next week to inform its future plans, and did not comment on the specific critiques against the NFT proposal.

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Reporting by Avi Asher-Schapiro @AASchapiro, Editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit <a href="http://news.trust.org" target="_blank">http://news.trust.org</a>

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