Bridging the Gap in Reporting Sexual Misconduct in Tech (html)

As we were developing our report “Bridging the Gap in Reporting Sexual Misconduct,” which examined the availability of the 1-800 fraud reporting hotlines of the 2018 Fortune 10 companies, we noted that Apple and Amazon’s 1-800 hotline numbers were not readily available via Google search. We wondered, while Amazon is not strictly defined as a tech company, is this a common practice among tech companies? Given that the tech sector has developed a reputation for sexual misconduct issues, we decided to examine the Top 10 Tech Companies in the 2019 Fortune 100.

In the previous report, we indicated that Section 301 of the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 requires that audit committees of the Board of Directors of publicly-held companies have “confidential, anonymous” procedures for employees to submit “concerns regarding questionable accounting or auditing matters,”[1]i.e. concerns that could result in financial impact to the company. Many companies have chosen to implement a system by a 1-800 phone line, often operated by a third-party,[2]through which complaints are compiled into reports and then channeled to the Audit Committee. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it has become apparent that sexual misconduct has the potential to have a material impact on a company’s management and finances. Because a CEO can manipulate information that passes through HR, the anonymous hotline to the audit committee may be one of few ways for people to report misconduct of top management.

Sexual misconduct, in particular, is notoriously under-reported.[3] We propose that many victims and survivors are unaware of all the options available for reporting or are stymied by systemic barriers to reporting, including identifying the reporting hotline of the perpetrator’s employer. I’m With Thembelieves that to demonstrate organizations are truly interested in and committed to anonymous reporting, and not just going through the motions, they need to ensure that information about anonymous reporting is not buried in a Code of Conduct, but widely disseminated and identifiable, both internally and externally, through commonly available tools.

In the prior report, we made the following suggestions:

Reviewing different companies’ sites, we have the following additional suggestions:


Findings

Disappointingly, our suspicion that the hotlines of the Top 10 Tech Companies are hard to find proved true. Only a single company, Oracle, had its 1-800 number appear anywhere on the first search results page, in contrast with 6 out of 10 of the Fortune 10; Apple, whose number is not obtainable in this manner, is in both groups. Indeed, Apple, Alphabet and Facebook turn up no search results that appear to lead to an anonymous hotline.

Top 10 Tech Companies in the Fortune 500 (2019)

The Fortune 10 (2018)

In contrast with the results of the Fortune 10, it appears that a majority of the Top 10 Tech Companies are merely going through the motions, though half have promising and encouraging statements on the first page of the search results.

We noted two additional contrasts between the Fortune 10 with the Fortune 10 Tech which do not appear evident in the tables. The first is that at least six of the tech companies appear to have contracted with “NAVEX Global’s EthicsPoint Client Portal” for their reporting systems. NAVEX appears on the first page of each company’s search results:

Unfortunately, no company branding appears on this search result. Contrasting with the Fortune 10, we can find “EthicsPoint – McKesson Corporation,” “EthicsPoint – CVS Health,” and EthicsPoint – AT&T” as search results. Without the company branding, there’s no reason for the searcher to conclude this search result has anything to do with their search because it appears to be a promotion of NAVEX’s services.

Second, while Oracle’s results from the search were what we sought, Cisco had the quickest access to all of its reporting mechanisms: a single page, which gave access to two separate websites, one for employees and one for non-employees; links for phone numbers by country; what to do if your country wasn’t on the list; email and cellphone contact for the company’s General Counsel; and both an email and postal mail address for the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors. While this was by far, the single best portal we’ve reviewed, it appeared tarnished when we clicked on the links for the websites, and the pages were not served. Cisco also shot itself in the foot by including an “Ethics Decision Tree” that discouraged reporting.

Cisco was not the only company with problem links. Apple and Dell Technologies had pages that were lost or couldn’t be loaded. Microsoft had two links that referred to the same page when they appeared to be about different topics. IBM had what appeared to be links in documents that did not work. While some of the broken or wrong links were at the EthicsPoint websites, nothing suggests that a company has wiped its hands of responsibility like links that don’t work. Nevertheless, the companies should ask for their money back from NAVEX.

Lastly, it is clear that for no good reason, the Top 10 Tech Companies have chosen their own naming for their hotlines and reporting mechanisms. We strongly believe that companies need to stop mispositioning their hotlines for reporting misconduct by giving them odd names, which make them harder to find. For similar reasons, “compliance” is a word that belongs in SEC instructions, not in front of people you want to have come forward with a difficult topic.

Grading this time is even harder than when we graded the Fortune 10. We’re giving an A- to Oracle for performing at a similar level to the best of the Fortune 10 companies. While Cisco failed to get its number into the search results, we were so astonished by its single page of contact mechanisms behind the encouraging message “Share Your Concerns – Cisco,” we are giving them a B, even with their reporting links not working. Dell, HP, IBM, Intel and Microsoft receive D’s for expressing interest in ethics, but not delivering. Facebook, Alphabet and Apple receive F’s.

Methodology

On June 18, 2019, we looked at differences between the search results of the Top 10 Tech Companies in the 2019 Fortune 100 when the company’s name and the words “anonymous hotline” were entered into a search at Google. We considered:

• positions of the phone number, if it appeared, within search results;

• descriptions that might encourage reporting, such as whether the words “anonymous” or “24x7” were apparent;

• whether additional systems such as a reporting website were promoted;

• whether the concept of a “hotline” was obscured by marketing jargon; and

• whether messages encouraged or discouraged reporting.

Note that we did not consider it relevant whether or not an employer had paid for placement of their hotline. For large employers, the cost of advertising a hotline on Google is minimal in comparison with the potential cost of an unidentified culture of harassment and a relatively small price to pay to ensure that outsiders can find a way to register complaints.

Companies are listed below starting with the largest employer. Images of the first set of results for each employer are in appendices to this report.

Apple

As the #1 tech company in the Fortune 100, Apple has the opportunity to lead in misconduct reporting. Unfortunately, it does not. As when we conducted this research in March of 2019, Apple’s hotline is not identifiable on the first page of Google search results when searching for “Apple anonymous hotline.” The first result leads to a password protected HR website. The second and fourth results are about supplier responsibilities. The third result is someone trying to find a phone number for HR.

Oddly, the fifth result refers to NavEx, a third party website company which many companies use to handle written complaints. Neither in the search results nor on the subsequent page are there any branded references to Apple. Typing “Apple” into a search box on the NavEx page returns a choice of different companies which have the word “Apple” in their names. Selecting the correct “Apple Inc.” leads to a reporting page. Interestingly, the only sign that this page actually is sponsored by Apple is the Apple logo in the upper righthand corner. There is an ominous message at the bottom of the page that says, “ATTENTION! This webpage is hosted on NAVEX Global’s secure servers and is not part of Apple’s website or intranet.” The reason for this alert is to notify the user that the system is not embedded within the company, which would help maintain the reporter’s anonymity. However, this particular alert suggests that Apple somehow disowns it.

The word “anonymous” does not appear on the subsequent NAVEX page, though there is a section under “Contact Apple Directly,” which says, “If you want guidance directly from Apple, visit the Business Conduct Helpline. Your reports and questions will remain confidential.” Selecting the option under this headline, a new page announces one is leaving the EthicsPoint site. Selecting “Continue” results in a “Page Cannot Be Found message.” Similarly, selecting “Read the FAQs” under “Frequently Asked Questions” and then selecting the “Apple Business Conduct Policy,” routes one to the “leaving-EthicsPoint” page. Following up with “Continue” gives the same result: page not found.

Alphabet

Never one to allow an advertising opportunity slip away, Alphabet’s first two results are for anonymous hotline services an organization can adopt. The second two results indicate that the company’s Code of Conduct can be found under the Investor Relations section of the website. The third search result, ironically, is a 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Anonymous Harassment Hotlines are Hard to Find and Harder to Trust…” The next search result is the Compliance Hotline and Reporting Misconduct Policy for another company, followed by an article citing Warren Buffett saying that “anonymous letters and hotline calls are best sources to find out…”


After a second company’s hotline information is the eighth result: a 2017 article entitled “Google Employee-Run Email Lets Workers Submit Complaints” by the Cut. The subheading says, “Some companies have ethics hotlines for employees to register…,” implying Alphabet does not. The ninth result is a “Compliance Helpline Website – EthicsPoint.”

As with Apple, the EthicsPoint portal does not take you immediately to the company; instead, one must enter the name into the Search Engine. Unlike Apple, the “ATTENTION!” message has been reduced to “Note: This webpage is hosted on NAVEX Global’s secure servers and is not part of the Alphabet website or intranet.” The words, “If you prefer, you can choose to report anonymously…” appear in one section of the page.

Selecting “Code of Conduct” from a menu offers a choice of many different codes of conducts, apparently all for subsidiaries. While we didn’t test all of them, we found no broken links. Oddly, some required an additional search with the other company name, when the company name had been selected. Alphabet euphemistically refers to its hotline as a “Helpline.” Unfortunately, a search of the Alphabet Code of Conduct indicates that its Helpline is mentioned only three times. No phone number is provided. The phone number can be found by selecting the menu item “Telephone” and then entering the “Country in which you are located.”

Just to doubledown on Alphabet, we recognize that many outsiders still know the company by its former name, “Google,” so we also searched on “Google anonymous hotline.” The first search result initially appeared promising as it was entitled “Report a violation – Docs Editors Help – Google Help,” but it was only for reporting violations of the “Terms of Service or program policies.” The NavEx portal is the sixth result and has no Google or Alphabet branding.

Microsoft

In contrast to Apple and Alphabet, the first four search results for “Microsoft anonymous hotline” are entitled:

followed by:

Unfortunately, the number is not visible on the page and the subtext under the hotline headline says, “Microsoft no longer accepts reports on this site. … You may also submit your report anonymously, where permitted by law…” Selecting this link opens a decommissioned page that points the searcher to microsoftintegrity.com, which is the same page under the first search result. “Confidential” or “confidentiality” appears on that page three times, but not the word “anonymous.” The phone number is prominent on this page, but how confidentiality is maintained is unclear. Oddly, the “Report a Concern” and “Learn More” links on this page open the same web page, which has the same contact information as on the previous page.

Microsoft engages in some of the discouraging language other companies in the Fortune 50 employ, by suggesting that in navigating ethical dilemmas the reporter:

It asks “Is your approach consistent with Microsoft’s culture and the values in these Standards? Does it build or maintain trust?” followed by the ambiguous “Never sacrifice long-term reputation and trust for a short-term benefit.” Whose reputation?


Dell Technologies

In the first search result for “Dell anonymous hotline,” Dell gets the word out that it has both a hotline (called the “Ethics Helpline”) and a website, but no phone number. The NavEx Portal appears to be the second search result. In the fifth result says that the Helpline may be used anonymously. The sixth result is titled “Solved: How do I file a complaint with Dell headquarters,” though this search result is for customer service complaints.

Selecting the first search result takes you to a document labeled “Dell-Internal Use-Confidential,” entitled “Dell Ethics Helpline and online Ethics Web Form Frequently Asked Questions.” This document has the following links:

• Dell Technologies Code of Conduct

• Global Privacy Policy

• Global Policy on Raising and Investigating Potential Ethics and Compliance Violations and Anti-Retaliation

• Dell Ethics & Compliance Site

• MyHR Portal

• Report a Concern (Helpline & Webform)

• Ask a Question (ethics@dell.com)

Selecting “Report a Concern” takes you to a third page, “Ethics and Integrity at Dell.” Still no phone number, but a menu item is entitled “Report a Concern by Phone.” Clicking on it, the phone number appears on the fourth page. Also on that page is a linked question: “What should I do if the telephone number is not working?”

Selecting the Code of Conduct menu item takes you to the Exit-EthicsPoint page. Hitting Continue resulted in a page that did not load. Selecting the Code of Conduct from the Internal and Confidential document resulted in the same server not responding.

The fourth search result encourages reporting, stating, “At Dell, we value honestly, integrity, and the highest level of ethical conduct.” Unfortunately, this is offset by a 2013 search result from Glassdoor, entitled, “Dell does not take Harassment in the workplace seriously.”


IBM

While the first four search results for “IBM anonymous hotline” reference ethics and compliance with phrases like “IBM’s ethics and compliance programs,” “IBM is committed to principles of business ethics and lawful conduct,” “Commitment to Integrity and BusinessEthics,” and “Code of Conduct,” the search results turn up no mention of a hotline.

Selecting the first result gives an overview of IBM’s approach to conduct. Under a subheading entitled “Reporting and handling concerns,” in the second paragraph, the company states “IBM provides communications channels for employees, suppliers, IBM Business Partners, and others to report concerns or suspected violations to the company. These reporting channels include mechanisms for submitting anonymous reports.” Still, the page is missing pointers as to how to do that.

Combing through the Code of Conduct off this page, we first searched for the word “hotline;” for which there were no references. Searching for the word “line,” we found this reference:

IBM’s Concerns & Appeals programs include “Open Door” to higher management and “Confidentially Speaking,” which lets you raise your concern anonymously. Submit your concerns online or by e-mail, regular mail or phone.

Unfortunately, there are no working links to IBM’s Concerns & Appeals. Going back to the original search results and attempting to find the number through “IBM Business Conduct Guidelines” leads one to a different copy of the IBM Code of Conduct with the same paragraph and a missing link to Concerns & Appeals.

Unlike some other top tech companies, no phone number can be identified.

Just to go the extra mile, we then Googled “IBM Concerns and Appeals.” The first three pages were all pages that had come up before. The fourth was a 2008 document describing the program at the time.


Intel

The top search results under “Intel anonymous hotline” tell a unique tale:

• Intel was losing employees. So it created an anonymous hotline to…”

• Intel Introduces an Anonymous Hotline in Hopes of Hanging On To Its Di”

• Intel Code of Conduct

• Intel Employee Portal

• Intel | Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

• NAVEX Global’s EthicsPoint Client Portal

Remarkably, under the “Intel Code of Conduct,” the description of the page is “Contains Intel’s mission, values, code of conduct, and statement from Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.” Krzanich left Intel in mid-2018 due to allegations of sexual misconduct with an employee.

The first search result describes a “WarmLine,” set up to reduce departures by addressing issues raised to the Global Diversity & Inclusion team. This sounds promising, but the CNN article has no pointers to the phone number. The second search result is a reference to an earlier article and clarifies that the Warmline is not a phone line.

The Code of Conduct is clearly from 2019, after Krzanich’s departure. Within the Code of Conduct, a paragraph indicates:

You can report an ethics or compliance or safety concern online or by phone through the Intel Ethics and Compliance Reporting Portal, which is hosted by a third party and allows anonymous reporting where permitted by law.

Clicking on the link in the Code of Conduct takes you to an EthicsPoint portal. In contrast with other companies’ sites, messaging on Intel’s page clearly explains the benefit of why the individual is on a separate website:

This webpage is hosted on EthicsPoint's secure servers and is not part of the Intel Corporation website or intranet. EthicsPoint is an independent third party that hosts and operates the Ethics and Compliance Reporting Portal on behalf of Intel. EthicsPoint will collate the information you submit and forward it to the appropriate Intel team. Intel shall use the information as described on this webpage and as explained to you during the reporting process (and in the case of Intel employees and contractors through internal policies).

A person can finally identify the phone number to call by selecting their country from a pop-down menu under “Report a Concern.”

The words “Ethics hotline” appear in search result number 5.


HP

A search for “HP anonymous hotline” produces only two links related to HP, the first Corporate ethics, and the second Ethics and human rights.” The fourth search result is for HP Enterprise, a different company. Encouraging messages that can be seen on this page include:

“At HP, how we do things is as important as what we do. We work every day to obtain the trust of our stakeholders an uphold our reputation for integrity and ethical…”

“Our robust ethics and compliance program ensures we don’t just avoid doing the wrong …”

Selecting the first search result, Corporate Ethics - HP, brings you to a page entitled “Sustainable Impact.” On the second screen of this document is a link to “Report ethics concerns.” A pop-up window shows the US phone number (called “Guideline”) and gives an email address and mailing address for filing concerns. The phone line is described as anonymous.

The second search result includes the phrase, “24-hour toll-free hotline (with translators available),” which suggests a phone number could be available. Selecting it opens a 2011 Ethics and human rights document. A link in this document opens to the same Sustainable Impact Report.


Facebook

Partly due to the nature of Facebook’s platform, the phrase “Facebook anonymous hotline” entered into a Google search returns a page describing how to report adverse postings on Facebook. No information on the first page of search results leads to a reporting hotline for fraud or sexual misconduct.


Cisco

Cisco looks as though it will break away from other tech companies with its search results for “Cisco anonymous hotline.” The top search result is entitled, “Share Your Concerns – Cisco.” While not describing a hotline, the description gives a very specific instruction for how to dial a specific number at Cisco and remain anonymous; unfortunately, it’s not the actual hotline. Selecting “Share Your Concerns – Cisco” opens a page with links to:

In addition, direct contact information is listed for Cisco’s General Counsel, with an email address and mailing address for the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors. As can be seen by looking at our searches for other companies’ hotlines, it’s rare to find this much information served so succinctly on a second page.

Unfortunately, off the same page, is an Ethics Decision Tree with questions such as,

If the action to be considered were “report the CEO for sexual misconduct,” the advice given in the tree is to not report it. As we’ve indicated before, it is better for companies to know of and address misconduct and fraud issues than to discourage reporting them.


Oracle

Of all ten of the Top 10 Tech Companies in the 2019 Fortune 100, Oracle is the only company whose hotline appears on the first page of search results when entering “Oracle anonymous hotline.” The number clearly appears in the third search result. While the number is not described as anonymous, reporting through their website is:

You may also call Oracle’sCompliance and Ethics Helplineat 800-679-7417, toll-free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You may anonymouslyreport an incident, where permitted by law online at any time through the Oracle Incident Reporting Website, which is available at https://www.complance-helpline.com/oracle.jsp.

Note that this website is actually the first search result; the only problem is that there is no description of the page. The link opens an EthicsPoint page with a similar ATTENTION message to that of Apple:

ATTENTION: This webpage is hosted on EthicsPoint’s secure servers and is not part of the Oracle Corporation Website or Intranet.

As with Apple’s statement, no description of why this would benefit the user.

Selecting “Report A Concern” opens a page where the user can enter their country and retrieve a phone number.

Oracle’s Code of Conduct has the phone number for the “Integrity Helpline” as well. The Code of Conduct has a section entitled “Enforcement” with no description but with a subsection entitled “Investigation Process.”


In Conclusion

The Top 10 Tech Companies perform poorly on searches for their anonymous hotlines. In addition, many aspects of their systems do not appear to have been tested for usability. This report represents a wake-up call to all companies that are truly interested in ensuring misconduct, and sexual misconduct in particular, is reported.


Appendix A - Apple


Appendix B.1 - Alphabet


Appendix B.2 - Google

Appendix C - Microsoft



Appendix D - Dell Technologies


Appendix E - IBM


Appendix F - Intel


Appendix G - HP


Appendix H - Facebook


Appendix I - Cisco Systems


Appendix J - Oracle


[1]https://www.sec.gov/rules/final/33-8220.htm

[2]Sarbanes-Oxley “Hotline” Procedures: Who Should Be Doing the Listening,” FIndlaw, https://corporate.findlaw.com/litigation-disputes/...

[3]Feldblum & Lipnic, “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace,” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, June 2016