Apple and human rights policy


Without giving it much publicity, Apple’s board of directors yesterday approved a document that, despite having only four pages, may be of great importance from now on: its ‘human rights policy’ . And it should be pointed out as an achievement of its shareholders.

Last February, almost half of them took the pulse of the company’s management by supporting a proposal in this sense from the consumer organization SumOfUS . The company tried to exclude it from the agenda, but the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission prohibited it.

Now, this decision comes after several years in which Apple has been severely criticized for giving in to the censorship demands of the Chinese regime . The document does not mention any country in particular, but both SumOfUS itself and the US media link it to past controversies related to Beijing.

According to SumOfUS spokesperson Sondhya Gupta, the strategy of Apple and other large U.S. companies has failed to moderate China’s repressive policies:

«What we have seen is a progressive deterioration, a state of unlimited cyber-surveillance, which is now spreading to Hong Kong.

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In 2017, Tim Cook claimed that Apple had removed 647 apps from its Chinese App Store after Beijing demanded it: «We’d rather not, but as in other cases, we follow the law wherever we do business» .

Does the Apple-approved document change anything?

In fact, the document approved in no way contradicts this position, since it speaks both of its commitment to «freedom of information and expression» and to «the human rights of all the people whose lives we affect» and of its «obligation to comply with local laws» .

But what if there is a conflict between the two principles? This is what Apple’s document says about it:

«When they are in conflict, we respect national law and try to respect internationally recognized human rights principles.

To such a diffuse text is added that Apple has neither included nor announced any monitoring mechanism for compliance with this document, nor has it explained how it will disclose any actions it may take in response to government requests to restrict freedom of expression».

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In fact, according to the Digital Rights 2019 Corporate Accountability Index, Apple is «less transparent than most of its US competitors (with the exception of Facebook) in reporting external requests to restrict content.

Therefore, SumOfUS announces a second proposal from its supporting shareholders, to be presented at next year’s investor meeting precisely so that the company can explain how it is enforcing its ‘human rights policy’ .

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