Berkeley’s GU Energy Labs Lost a Political Fight with Utah, But Found A New Sense of Purpose

Author: Paul Balmer  | UC Berkeley School of Law | J.D.  Candidate 2020 | Posted: February 27, 2020 | Download PDF.

GU Energy Labs, the Berkeley producer of energy gels and other endurance sports nutrition fuel, didn’t think of itself as the type of company to take a political stand. But everything changed when Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution in February 2017, urging President Trump to roll back the designation of Bears Ears National Monument. 

“Our CEO had challenged the marketing team to figure out how to respond,” said Brian Gillis, Marketing Communications Manager and one of less than 100 employees of the West Berkeley-based company. [1] 

What did Utah state politics matter to GU? Utah, an endurance sports hotspot, was also home to Outdoor Retailer, the outdoor industry’s biannual trade show, which generated about $45 million in annual economic impact in Utah. [2] Now Patagonia, following the corporate activism response to anti-LGBT legislation in Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina [3] had signaled that they were ready to take a stand. [4]

GU’s VP of Marketing, Adam Chamberlain, had heard from former colleagues at Patagonia that the apparel giant was planning to boycott the upcoming trade show if Governor Herbert signed state resolution. Adam pitched it to GU’s three-person board, and quickly got the go-ahead. [5]

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‘Rekognizing’ the Harm: Amazon’s Facial Recognition Dilemma

Author: Mandeep Raj | UC Berkeley School of Law | J.D.  Candidate 2020 | Posted: February 25, 2020 | Download PDF.

Amazon has increasingly come under fire for selling and marketing facial recognition technology to U.S. law enforcement.[1] Local law enforcement in some U.S. jurisdictions already use the technology, and last year Amazon pitched the technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.[2] Amazon and proponents of the technology contend that facial recognition can be beneficial to society in many ways, such as empowering law enforcement to find victims of sex trafficking, finding suspected criminals more quickly, and enhancing security and deterring crime at major public use areas like airports.[3]

However, despite the positives of facial recognition technology, there is growing evidence to suggest that this technology can be used in oppressive ways, especially towards minorities and political dissidents. In 2018, a Freedom House report indicated that the Chinese government used facial recognition technology to monitor the Uighur population, a religious minority in China, in order to thwart any actions deemed to harm “public order” or “national security.”[4] Recently, U.S. officials have criticized China’s treatment of the Uighur population, estimating that roughly three out of ten million Uighurs are being held in “concentration camps.”[5] The same Freedom House report indicated that among eighteen countries that used facial recognition technology, sixteen of those surveyed were considered “partially free” or “not free.”[6] Furthermore, in Hong Kong, protestors are using electric saws to take down street cameras believed to have facial recognition technology in fear that their identity may be used against them in the future.[7] While facial recognition technology does not cause abuse, it is clear that there are legitimate worries that it can enable abuse in the wrong hands. (more…)

Corporate Activism in The Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster: A Welcome New Chapter or Cause for Alarm?

Author: Devin McGahey | UC Berkeley School of Law | J.D.  Candidate 2021 | Posted: February 25, 2020 | Download PDF.

President Rush Limbaugh was recently assassinated and the calendar has been sold to the highest corporate bidder. Years no longer take numerical form; they’re designated by household consumer products. It’s not 2019. It’s the Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster. Such is the world etched out in David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel, Infinite Jest, where everything—even time—has a price. [1]  As a reader, it’s difficult what to make of this dystopian portrayal of corporate sponsorship. Ludicrous? Prophetic? Ask the citizens of Brazil, Indiana, whose fire hydrants now bear the KFC Fiery Grilled Wings logos. [2]

 

The relationship between corporations and the American public is undoubtedly in the midst of a shift. Recently, responding to public pressure in the wake of two mass shootings, the big-box chain Walmart announced that it would no longer sell ammunition for military-style weapons—a move that could cut its ammunition market share by 60 percent. [3] Similarly, NASCAR recently rejected a number of advertisements from firearms companies submitted for its souvenir programs. [4] While corporations have traditionally avoided inserting themselves into social or political issues—particularly emotionally-charged issues like gun control—Walmart and NASCAR join a growing number of blue-chip companies that have leveraged their size, reach, and loyalty to affect public policy.  

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Tech, the Housing Crisis, and a Moral Test

Author: Joanna Torres | UC Berkeley School of Law | J.D.  Candidate 2020 | Posted: February 24, 2020 | Download PDF.

The tech industry continues to attract workers to the Bay Area. Yet, the housing supply has not kept up and as a result, housing prices have skyrocketed. San Francisco’s Proposition C would tax the city’s wealthiest companies to raise about $300 million a year to combat homelessness.[1] The measure attempts to hold tech industry leaders accountable for a problem they helped create but have largely left unaddressed.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, has supported the measure from the beginning and has donated both personal and company money.[2] Benioff believed that other tech companies would follow his lead and support the measure.[3] However, many companies have opposed the measure. (more…)

Google Tells Employees to Take the Bench on Politics

Author: Taylor Magnuson | UC Berkeley School of Law | J.D.  Candidate 2020 | Posted: February 24, 2020 | Download PDF.

The tide has turned at Google. The mega-tech company no longer wants to play on the playground of heated political debates at the workplace. This is a drastic change from Google’s prior stance on politics at the workplace. Previously, Google sponsored internal mailing lists, message boards, and employee groups dedicated to politics. [1,2]  In fact, two years ago, Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, announced during a company meeting that Trump’s 2016 win was “deeply offensive” [3]  and “many people apparently don’t share the values that we have.” [4]  In November 2018, over 20,000 employees walked out of Google for paying off executives accused of sexually harassing employees. [5]  Both Liberal and Conservative employees have accused Google of retaliation against their beliefs. [6] Politicians, consumers, and employees now ask Google to rein the politics in.  (more…)