Ross LaJeunesse, Google’s former head of international relations, posted an Op-Ed to Medium on Jan. 2 that exposed the tech giant’s alleged propensity for prioritizing profits over human rights, which contradicts its early company motto of “Don’t be evil.”
In 2010, 2 years after LaJeunesse joined the company, Google decided to stop cooperating with China because of the Chinese government’s censorship demands and its attempts to hack into the Gmail accounts of human rights advocates.
It was the only way that executives believed they could stick with their “Don’t be evil” mantra.
However, after LaJeunesse became the company’s head of international relations in 2012, he discovered that executives wanted to rejoin the Chinese market through a secret, censored search product for China with the code name “Project Dragonfly.” LaJeunesse said he was worried that the “Don’t be evil” mantra was being abandoned.
To help Google prioritize human rights in its relationship with China and in its corporate culture, LaJeunesse said he proposed a “Human Rights Program” based off the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which aims to protect things like “human dignity,” “peaceful assembly” and “just and favourable” work conditions.
But every time he recommended the program, “senior executives came up with an excuse to say no,” LaJeunesse wrote.
“I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions,” he said.
“Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price.”
LaJeunesse said human rights principles were not only neglected by Google’s product and policy teams, but also in the work space culture itself.
For instance, he alleged racist and sexist behavior that he says he witnessed at work.
“Senior colleagues bullied and screamed at young women, causing them to cry at their desks,” he wrote.
“At an all-hands meeting, my boss said, ‘Now you Asians come to the microphone too. I know you don’t like to ask questions,'” LaJeunesse continued.
He described an all-hands meeting, in which he claimed colleagues were separated into rooms labeled “Asians,” “Brown people” and “homos.”
LaJeunesse, who is gay, said employees shouted out stereotypical terms such as “effeminate” and “promiscuous” at those in the “homos” room.
LaJeunesse said he tried to report the issues to human resources, but each time no one followed up.
He said he learned the truth about what was going on when he was copied on an email from a senior director of HR to a colleague, where the director allegedly instructed the colleague to “do some digging” on LaJeunesse since he reported workplace concerns so often.
LaJeunesse said he experienced retaliation from Google for reporting misconduct.
He claimed to have lost his position as head of international relations for standing up for human rights despite 11 years of glowing reviews, even though there were nearly 100 positions open on the policy team.
LaJeunesse said he was offered a smaller job in exchange for his silence, which he declined.
Google said in a statement to The Washington Post that the reorganization was not due to LaJeunesse’s individual performance.
Instead, the company said his previous position did not fit into the new structure that divided its policy team into regional and product teams.
“We have an unwavering commitment to supporting human rights organizations and efforts,” Jenn Kaiser, a Google spokeswoman, told The Post.
In 2018, more than 20,000 Google employees walked out while on the job to protest sexual harassment; in response, Google said it would change its sexual misconduct policies and support workers who expressed concerns to HR.
“In general, there’s a culture at Google where people were afraid to talk to HR — and in many cases for good reason,” Liz Fong-Jones, a former Google engineer who claimed she experienced retaliation from Google for her activism against internal company issues, told Recode, a technology news company owned by Vox Media.
The outlet reported that employees have been “demoted, pushed out, or placed on less desirable projects” for filing complaints with Google’s HR department.
“To me, no additional evidence was needed that ‘Don’t be evil’ was no longer a true reflection of the company’s values; it was now nothing more than just another corporate marketing tool,” LaJeunesse, who’s now running for Senate as a Democrat in Maine, wrote after detailing how he quit his job.
“Two weeks after leaving Google, I returned home to Maine. It’s where I was born and raised, and where I was taught basic values like the importance of working hard, standing up for what is right, and speaking the truth,” he continued.
“There are many people here in Maine and throughout the country who live by the credo ‘Don’t be evil.’ We may not use that language, and we don’t have billion dollar marketing budgets to convince the world of our goodness. But, we live by those words every day, and we expect our government and our corporations to do the same.”
The Western Journal has reached out to Google for comment but has not yet received a response. We will update this article if and when we do.
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