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Monster.Com Ethnic Cleansing on the Web?

Monster.com

by DOKHI FASSIHIAN

On April 24, Monster.com, the world’s largest online job search and career management company, will delete the word "Iran," along with the names of six other countries–Burma/Myanmar, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria–from its standard format for resumes. According to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the U.S. government has not encouraged Monster to make this decision and does not find it necessary.

In addition to the change to the resumes, individuals and organizations with addresses in these countries will be dropped from Monster’s website. Resumes with addresses inside Iran or any of the other countries will be taken down, and employers with an address in any of these countries will no longer be able to use Monster’s hiring services. International organizations such as the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and foreign companies with addresses in these countries will not be exempt, and will no longer be able to use Monster’s employment services.

In a form letter dated April 18, and emailed to job seekers with the names of these countries in their resumes, Monster states:

"The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, as well as some states, maintain sanctions which prohibit U.S. companies from conducting certain business activities with organizations located in or residents of the following countries… In order for Monster to comply with applicable U.S. federal and state regulations, we will be removing the Sanctioned Countries from the site. Your resume included one (or more) of the Sanctioned Countries. Therefore, your resume will be altered, removing all Sanctioned Countries from your resume(s)."

On April 21, Kendra Morley, a Monster customer service representative explained the policy to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC): "We are simply taking the names of these countries off our site. We can’t have references to these particular countries. Our legal Department found it in Monster’s best interest to take those references out."

A Monster.com user in the United States, who in 1994 received a Bachelor of Science degree from Iran University of Science Technology, received the April 18 notification. Monster’s customer service department advised him to move that information, currently under "Education," to the "Other Skills" section of his resume because that section "is not searchable." He was also told that Monster decided to take the step as a protective measure from the U.S. Department of Treasury. After contacting the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the individual was informed that no directive or regulation from OFAC required Monster to take such action.

Founded in 1994 by Monster Chairman Jeff Taylor, the company describes itself as "the leading global careers network on the internet." It maintains sites in 22 countries, almost all in Europe, cites millions of job seekers, over a million job postings, and profiles of 130,000 employers.

"My Monster," a free service for job seekers, allows individuals to create and post a detailed resume profile on Monster’s website to be searched by employers worldwide. It requires users to type the contents of already existing resumes into a standardized Monster format. As a result of the company’s new policy, the names of the specified sanctioned countries can no longer appear as an official location on Monster resumes.

According to Monster, the new policy is not censorship. The company says it will not be scanning resumes for words and deleting them arbitrarily, rather, the sanctioned countries will be taken out of Monster’s standard drop down format of countries–this, Monster alleges, is to prevent Iranian employers and individuals from putting up profiles and listings on Monster’s website.

So, after April 24, Indonesia will be directly followed by Iraq, Norfolk Island by Northern Mariana Islands, and Croatia by Cyprus. The seven countries will basically disappear from the country lists in the "Candidate Information," "Education," and "Target Locations" sections of Monster resumes. In other words, if you happen to live in Iran, if you studied in Iran, or if you want to live and work in Iran, Monster will not help you.

So what do you do if at one point you’ve lived, studied, or worked in one of these countries? According to Monster, there are "work arounds." Users can manually type in the names of these countries in other areas. For example, they can be listed in "Other Skills" or in the "Experience" and "Education" sections normally designated for descriptions of the work or study an individual conducted. Oddly, the only thing that can’t be done is to list the names of these countries as actual locations.

For employers or job seekers with addresses in the sanctioned countries, no "work arounds" exist. A young Iranian living in Iran cannot use Monster to find job opportunities in the U.S.–or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Neither can a Dane, a Frenchman, or an Indian seeking work in one of the sanctioned countries.

So why is Monster isolating seven countries, and alienating seven ethnic communities from its business activities and from the global job market? It claims that as a business, it is required to do so to be in compliance with U.S. regulations. But OFAC disputed this assertion. Darryl Bailey, an OFAC information specialist, was adamant that Monster’s actions were unrelated to the sanctions program. "We have nothing to do with that," said Bailey. "The Treasury Department is not, I repeat, NOT advising Monster to do this."

OFAC’s compliance department reiterated Bailey’s claim. "This is a false reading of the sanctions program," a compliance officer said. "Someone can be denied a job this way. I can assure you of the position of OFAC. [Profiling and discrimination] is not the intent of the sanctions. These companies are deviating from their purposes, and I strongly suggest they confer with legal counsel here before they use the U.S. government as a bookmark for their own purposes."

Monster’s director of legal affairs, Donna Guilmette, however, assured NIAC that her office was in contact with OFAC, and that a specialist there, along with outside counsel, had confirmed that Monster’s actions were, indeed, necessary to be in compliance with the sanctions program. "[Matching job seekers with companies] was deemed to be a facilitation of business activity," Guilmette told NIAC. "We are trying to comply. We are not trying to be discriminatory."

On April 22, NIAC held a conference call with Guilmette and OFAC Sanctions Monitoring Specialist Zack Woodyard. Woodyard described Monster’s decision to remove residents of Iran from its website in order to stay in compliance as a "good idea," but stopped short of stating that the action was advised or required by OFAC. Woodyard also expressed that he didn’t think Monster should remove Iran from the drop down box in the "Education" section of its resumes. "It has no relevance at all if someone got an education in Iran," Woodyard said.

Guilmette described that as a "technical glitch" since Monster’s format is standardized throughout its site. She was unable to promise that Monster would find a way around it due to costs. When asked, however, about citizens and nationals of other countries living in Iran, Guilmette said Monster would make every effort to find a way around that issue as long as the affected person called and described their situation. This, before Woodyard clarified that the U.S. Code prohibited any U.S. entity from exporting a good to any person or entity residing in Iran. Guilmette quickly retracted Monster’s offer to make those exceptions for nationals of other countries.

Monster’s move raises many legal and ethical questions that must be answered in the days to come.

1. Is it ethnic profiling, censorship, and discrimination to prohibit job seekers from listing Iran and other countries as locations in the world?

2. Does Monster violate the rights to information exchange, exempt from sanctions, of residents of these countries? Since the company draws no revenue from job seekers, what business transaction is being conducted with individuals seeking access to international job information? For example, an Iranian information technology expert living in Iran and seeking employment in Canada. Or a Spaniard working as a journalist in Iran and looking for employment in the United States?

3. Finally, what drove Monster to make this change now? Currently, U.S. companies are allowed to offer individuals living in Iran employment in the U.S. and sponsor their work visas. If this transaction is legal under the current sanction code, how could information exchange that enables Iranian youth to find potential employers in the U.S. be deemed a violation of the sanctions? Thus far, no other online employment agencies (www.careerbuilder.com, www.hotjobs.com) have followed Monster’s lead.

It remains to be seen if Monster’s policy, which analysts deem to be excessive, will remain an exception or if it will become common practice in Corporate America in the near future. However one interprets the U.S. sanctions policy, it wasn’t the U.S. government that knocked on Monster’s door. Monster just decided to open it.