Chef chops US immigration deal, promises expanded ethics policy

Chef has been forced into reverse over its ill-fated contract with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and will develop an “expanded ethics policy” for “problematic customer contracts”.

The automation vendor was left reeling last week, after the long-standing deal came to wider public attention, prompting developer Seth Vargo to pull a series of Ruby gems off the internet that brought some installations to a halt.

Chef forked the software in question to get installations up and running again, while CEO Barry Crist insisted the company was right to continue with the contract, even if he personally felt uncomfortable dealing with an agency that has been lambasted for a hardline border policy that resulted in children being separated from their parents.

By last night Crist had clearly given the matter more thought, and declared that, “After deep introspection and dialog within Chef, we will not renew our current contracts with ICE and CBP when they expire over the next year. Chef will fulfill our full obligations under the current contracts.”

The company will also donate “an amount equivalent to our 2019 revenues from these two contracts” to charities supporting people affected by the policies.

Crist also pointed out that when the initial contracts were struck, in 2014 and 2015, “under a different set of circumstances than exists today”, and when “policies such as family separation and detention did not yet exist.”

This all may, or may not, go some way to deflect the heat the company has attracted over the issue.

Crist said “There are other work streams that I would like to initiate inside Chef to facilitate more effective dialogue inside our company and across our community.”

What will really be interesting is how it develops that “expanded ethics policy”, if only because it could open source it so other vendors could benefit.

After all, who gets to define a problematic contract? Should entire countries or regions be no go zones? What about problematic industries and companies? Is a company obliged to defer to its developers or community in every case? Should developers set the course, or do other departments get a look in?

If Chef can slice a way through all of that, it really will have done the industry a favour. Particularly any other automation vendor looking to snap up the ICE business Chef will walk away from next year.