In mid-December 2019 Patently Apple posted a report titled “Apple Faces a Showdown with Activist Shareholders over Human Rights related to the removal of the Hong Kong Mapping App.” Our report had noted that this activist group wants to buy from, work for and invest in companies that respect the environment, treat their workers well and respect democracy. And they’re not afraid to hold companies to account when they don’t.
Although it’s a long-shot for this group to succeed against Apple, the fact is that they could be forced to disclose details of censorship requests from China and other nations after two major shareholder groups backed a proposal that would force the tech firm to make new human rights commitments, according to UK’s Guardian.
“The motion, set to be voted on by the company’s investors later today, was prompted by numerous allegations of Apple kowtowing to Beijing and blocking apps from being used by Chinese customers.
if approved by investors, the scheme could have implications beyond China and potentially expose details of tensions between Apple and other jurisdictions. The California-headquartered tech giant has regularly clashed with the US government, including most prominently over requests for iPhones to be unlocked.
The human rights resolution was put forward by campaign group SumOfUs, which cited several concerns about Apple’s relationship with the Chinese state in its submission to investors.
Apple failed in an attempt to block the vote from taking place. And now the Guardian has learned that the proposal has the support of the influential corporate governance groups ISS and Glass Lewis.
SumOfUs believes the need to clarify Apple’s relationship with China is made particularly urgent by public outrage surrounding Beijing’s treatment of Uighur people sent to internment camps and pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
Despite backing from ISS and Glass Lewis, SumOfUs still faces an uphill battle to pass the motion because it is opposed by Apple’s board, which includes the company’s chief executive, Tim Cook, and former US vice-president Al Gore.
Apple has issued a statement saying the proposal is “unnecessary based on the extensive information that is already publicly provided to our shareholders and users.”
Apple said in its statement that free expression “is central to our company and its success” but that it is obliged to “comply with local laws and to protect the safety of our customers and employees”, including by removing apps.
The company said: “[W]hile we may disagree with certain decisions at times, we do not believe it would be in the best interests of our users to simply abandon markets, which would leave consumers with fewer choices and fewer privacy protections.” For more on this, read the full Guardian report.