On May 29, 2017, CEO Jeff Goldenbaum of GoldTech, one of the world’s largest technology companies, said something he would later come to regret.
When, in an interview, he was pressed on GoldTech’s complicity with exploitative business practices and inhumane working conditions and low wages in the impoverished countries where many of GoldTech’s devices are created—he simply said, “business is business.”
By the time the interview was over, he was trending on Twitter.
It wasn’t long before GoldTech employees themselves took to the Internet to voice their complaints.
“Goldenbaum basically admits to being a capitalist pig and everyone’s SURPRISED?” tweeted one.
“Not like we’re treated much better,” tweeted another—igniting a firestorm of its own.
It was like so many other scandals: someone in power says something they shouldn’t have, everyone complains, nothing changes. But the backlash against Goldenbaum kept growing, particularly amongst the employees of GoldTech.
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Only the latest in a long string of transgressions and mistakes that GoldTech employees were slow to forget and unwilling to forgive. They continued a tireless campaign on social media, speaking out against every facet of the company, even in interviews on Good Morning America and Late Night with Joey Roslyn.
For a couple weeks it went on like this. And then one employee, Shauna Mathew, decided to hold a meeting. During GoldTech working hours. So that employees could air their grievances in a shared and safe space.
That crossed a line.
The next day everyone received a memo direct from corporate.
“A reminder that meetings organized for the purpose of speaking out against GoldTech are prohibited by our Code of Conduct. Anyone found organizing, or attending, any such meetings will face disciplinary action and requisite punishment.”
Shauna Mathew couldn’t believe it. Reluctantly she was talked out of it, but she continued her tirade on social media with a renewed fervor. The memo made The New York Times, having been anonymously leaked.
And GoldTech began taking some serious heat.
Soon, another memo arrived on the desks of GoldTech employees.
“Anyone writing on Facebook anything slanderous or false about GoldTech will be suspended from work, without pay, for a week.”
They were being silenced and fear began to spread throughout the company. Soon, the silencing spread to all social media. Corporate, and Goldenbaum, were serious about this. People began to fear for their jobs. Many chose to stay quiet, keep their heads down, and continue on with their work without making waves.
This did not include Shauna Mathew. Furious, she spoke to everyone she could. Blogs, newspapers, think tanks. She blithely ignored GoldTech’s threats and kept posting.
And so, nobody was surprised when, one day, Mathew stopped showing up to work. Her desk was empty. Her name wiped from the payroll.
Internally, employees were furious. But they didn’t dare express themselves. Some threatened to quit, and a few did. But most valued their jobs over their freedom of expression. They didn’t risk one for the other.
On the surface, things seemed to quiet down. But below, in the hearts of GoldTech employees, an anger was slowly building. And Goldenbaum knew it.
So, he called a company-wide meeting.
GoldTech employees didn’t quite know what to expect, but something along the lines of “speak out and you’re fired,” sounded about right. A total and complete silencing. The one to squash any doubts about where GoldTech stood.
They gathered together, tense and unhappy, and Goldenbaum took the stage.
“GoldTech has always wanted to remain at the frontier of not only technology, but also workplace culture.”
Several people snorted. More bullshit PR.
Goldenbaum continued. “It is no secret that many of you have been disappointed with how we’ve handled recent events. And we’ve been asking you all to keep quiet online. There is a reason for this.
“We’ve listened to your complaints. And we want to be open to more. So, we’re creating a GoldTech newspaper and community platform. One where you can voice your complaints freely and publicly.”
Everyone listened, confused and stunned.
“Freedom of expression is critical to what we do here.”
And eyes opened wide as Shauna Mathew walked out on stage and joined Goldenbaum.
“Meet Shauna Mathew, the new editor-in-chief of GoldNews. A platform managed by, run by, and written by you—the employees of GoldTech.”
Nobody could believe it.
“On GoldNews, you are free to say as you wish.”