AT&T is under pressure to deal with a sexual assault scandal at tech company Afiniti, which relies on the $ 170 billion telecommunications giant for most of its revenue.
The U.S. operator is believed to account for up to two-thirds of Infiniti’s revenue after signing a deal worth more than $ 100million (£ 75million) in 2019, but has not publicly responded to the crisis engulfing the company and its founder dethroned Zia Chishti.
Tatiana Spottiswoode, a former employee, alleged that Mr Chishti abused and harassed her and at least one other staff member while on overseas work trips, which led the board to to fire him this month. The claims led to David Cameron, the former prime minister, to step down as senior advisor to the company, and clients including Sky and Liberty Global have said they are weighing their options.
Telecom sources said that some customers of Infiniti are looking to develop their own versions of its technology, which helps manage queues of callers to customer service centers.
Nancy Erika Smith, Ms Spottiswoode’s attorney, called on Texas-based AT&T to hold Afiniti accountable, saying customers have a “powerful voice” to force change.
“Customers such as AT&T are increasingly active in rejecting products and services from companies that allow and cover sexual harassment, abuse and other types of discrimination,” she said.
“Customers and shareholders should assign responsibility to board members and companies that support stalkers and enablers. Money speaks and customers have a powerful voice. Hope they will use it.
AT&T is promoting itself as a champion for women in the workplace. On its website, it says: “Women are at the heart of AT & T’s foundation. They help move our business forward and inspire others to do the same.
Its “Supplier Principles of Conduct,” also posted on the AT&T website, states: “AT&T expects suppliers to treat all of their employees with respect and dignity. The use of corporal punishment, threats of violence, physical abuse or other forms of physical coercion, harassment or intimidation are not tolerated.
Mr Chishti, a 50-year-old Pakistani-American who had previously been successful in a company manufacturing transparent braces, has denied any wrongdoing. He called Ms Spottiswoode’s allegations “particularly hurtful” because “one of my priorities [is] to see that they [women] do absolutely as well as they can ”.
AT & T’s ties to Afiniti and Mr Chishti are under scrutiny as more members of the Infiniti advisory board follow Mr Cameron to the exit.
The Sunday Telegraph understands that Mike Mullen, the former US defense chief, has resigned from the board of directors, alongside Andrea Wong, a former Hollywood executive, and Tom Glocer, the former head of Thomson Reuters.
Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the presidencies of George W Bush and Barack Obama, was one of the most prominent figures on the board.
Mr Chishti was forced to resign and Afiniti has opened an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment at the company, but he retains his influence thanks to his leadership of TRG, its largest shareholder.
Afiniti first said that it examined Ms Spottiswoode’s claims and found them to be false, despite an independent arbitration finding against Mr Chishti.
A source said: “Zia left in response to customer outrage and he is banking on customers seeing the headlines, feeling they ticked the box and will not take back the influence of the second order. . “
Afiniti continues to employ Princess Beatrice as Vice President of Partnerships and Strategy. She is on maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter, Sienna, in September.
AT&T did not respond to requests for comment.
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Zia Chishti ousted as software company head but continues to control key shareholder
When the private jet Dassault Falcon 900 touched down on the tarmac at Innsbruck Airport two weeks ago, Zia Chishti had no idea what was going to happen.
Afiniti, its call center software company, was on the rise. Revenues had more than doubled in the past two years and a groundbreaking deal with US telecommunications giant AT&T was signed.
A long-promised New York IPO did not seem out of the question for the company, which had an unrivaled network of powerful names.
The globetrotter’s founder, Chishti, had bought the jet, which typically sells for around £ 6million, a year earlier. Passionate about skiing, he had to get a taste of the Austrian slopes as part of a business trip to Europe.
But just three days later, Chishti’s fortunes took a downward spiral. Tatiana Spottiswoode, a former employee, alleged that the Pakistani-American entrepreneur, 50, sexually assaulted and harassed her on several occasions. She claimed he had “treated” her from an early age after being introduced by her father.
According to Spottiswoode, Chishti – twice her age – had shown her a lavish travel lifestyle and chased her for months before a short relationship, which she broke.
She said the businessman then offered the then young student a salary of $ 60,000 (£ 45,000) to join Afiniti, where he “wavered between pressuring me for sex and punishing me. “.
When she rejected him, Chishti made her fear for her job, Spottiswoode said. When he succeeded, he allegedly beat her, leaving wounds and signs of concussion during a meeting in a hotel room in Brazil. She claims he also harassed at least one other staff member while on business trips abroad.