In 2019, Julie Sweet, the newly appointed chief executive of the global consulting firm Accenture, held a meeting with top managers. She had a question: Should Accenture get out of some of the work it was doing for a leading client, Facebook?
For years, tensions had mounted within Accenture over a certain task that it performed for the social network. In eight-hour shifts, thousands of its full-time employees and contractors were sorting through Facebook’s most noxious posts, including images, videos and messages about suicides, beheadings and sexual acts, trying to prevent them from spreading online.
Some of those Accenture workers, who reviewed hundreds of Facebook posts in a shift, said they had started experiencing depression, anxiety and paranoia. In the United States, one worker had joined a class-action lawsuit to protest the working conditions. News coverage linked Accenture to the grisly work. So Ms. Sweet had ordered a review to discuss the growing ethical, legal and reputational risks.