McKinsey & Co. will no longer work with ICE

Image: Reuters/Monica Lozano
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Outraged employees at McKinsey & Co., the prestigious global consulting firm, appear to have won an ethical debate with their bosses. The company’s leaders have ended its work for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to The New York Times.

Employees, it seems, first learned that the firm had signed on for more than $20 million in a contract with ICE in a Times story published June 26, the same day that the federal agency announced an end to its now notorious “zero tolerance” policy.

Under that practice, parents who crossed the US-Mexico border without the proper documents were arrested, and their children, including infants and preschoolers, were sent to detention centers alone.

The news of McKinsey’s contract, therefore, “caused a bit of drama,” an employee told the Times. Both current employees and McKinsey alumni weighed in about the moral consequences of playing a role in ICE’s work.

Today (July 10), in a letter to all staff, Kevin Sneader, the company’s new managing director, stated that McKinsey “will not, under any circumstances, engage in any work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.” He also said the firm had not been working with ICE on operations to implement the controversial immigration policy. Instead, it was providing “management consulting services” for the agency’s “Enforcement and Removal Operations division.”

Ironically, the detail about ICE and McKinsey was merely a side note within that original Times story, which was an in-depth piece about a totally different scandal. McKinsey recently had to apologize to South Africans for its involvement in a corruption case that eventually led to the resignation of former president Jacob Zuma.

Last month, as the media published accounts of the trauma and chaos created by ICE, several airlines announced they would not fulfill contracts to fly detainees within or out of the United States. Following employee criticism, Google also backed out of its deal with the Pentagon to help the Department of Defense develop its artificial intelligence capabilities. And Microsoft and Salesforce both faced employee rage when it was revealed that they were working with ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, respectively.

All of these firms no doubt considered what partnering with ICE would mean to their company’s reputations, and are conscious that potential employees, especially millennials, can afford to be picky if they’d prefer to dedicate their talents to an organization whose social or environmental impact they support, or at least find tolerable.

Today’s news serves as yet another reminder to corporate leaders: in today’s politics, there’s no room for “it’s just business” excuses. And your employees are watching.