December 18, 2020
Apple has failed to enact the human rights policy it introduced in August, and has suppressed a shareholder proposal raising human rights concerns, according to a coalition of shareholders, campaigners and Tibetan, Uyghur and Hongkonger human rights defenders.
The tech giant introduced the new policy following shareholder pressure over its respect for human rights in China, including blocking apps like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from China’s App Store that help users evade censorship and surveillance. Shareholders filed a new proposal calling on Apple to report on how it is implementing the human rights policy, but Apple’s lawyers took action to prevent the proposal being discussed or voted on. Over 150 civil society organizations representing over 18 million people worldwide today wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook demanding Apple address human rights concerns.
Pema Doma, Students for a Free Tibet said: “By blocking the shareholder vote, Apple is trying to silence us. The company wants to brush Chinese, Uyghur, Tibetan and Hongkonger human rights under the carpet, and continues to bow to the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship demands. Apple’s hypocrisy in taking credit for its human rights policy but not backing it up with actions can’t go on any longer.”
In its human rights policy, Apple committed to respect freedom of information and expression as human rights, as well as protect people in its supply chain. However, only last month Apple was caught lobbying to undermine a bill designed to stop Uyghur forced labour in East Turkistan.
Vicky Wyatt, SumOfUs said: “We welcomed Apple’s human rights policy when it was first introduced, but it’s now clear those commitments were nothing but empty words. Apple says it values free expression, but now it’s doubling down on censorship: Apple bows to Beijing’s requests to censor its own customers, and is now trying to suppress its shareholders as well.”
Zumretay Arkin, World Uyghur Congress said: “Apple’s human rights record is utterly shameful. Apple was left isolated when other tech companies spoke against the draconian Hong Kong Security Law, its transparency report is positively opaque in comparison to Google’s, and only last month Apple was caught lobbying to undermine a bill designed to stop forced Uyghur labour in East Turkistan, despite adopting its first human rights policy. Apple is making promises it cannot keep.”
Sarah Couturier-Tanoh, Shareholder Association for Research and Education said: “On behalf of the long-term Apple shareholders we represent, we had hoped to see the company take stronger action in implementing its human rights policy. There are a number of steps Apple can take while still upholding local laws, including being much more transparent about the requests it gets from governments and the actions it is taking to push back on those. When a company has amassed the power Apple has, the expectations are increased accordingly.”