Apple, Inc – Human Rights (2021)
Outcome: Omitted by SEC
RESOLVED: Shareholders of Apple Inc. (“Apple” or the “Company”) request that the Board of Directors report annually to shareholders, at reasonable expense and excluding confidential and proprietary information, on Apple’s management systems and processes for implementing its human rights policy commitments regarding freedom of expression and access to information; the oversight mechanisms for administering such policy commitments; and a description of the actions Apple has taken in response to government or other third-party demands that were reasonably likely to limit free expression or access to information.
Apple sells products and services in countries whose governments limit free expression and punish dissent. In China, a market accounting for 17% of Apple’s net sales in fiscal 2019,1 the government “suppress[es] politically sensitive speech” and “wrong-oriented” online content, according to Human Rights Watch, and blocks sites using a filtering system nicknamed the “Great Firewall.”2
In 2020, Apple issued a statement, “Our Commitment to Human Rights.”3 Shareholders want to understand how this policy is being implemented and how it guides Company actions in light of rights violations in China and elsewhere.
Apple has cooperated with requests from the Chinese government to restrict free expression and access to information. In 2017, Apple removed almost all virtual private network (VPN) providers’ apps from its Chinese App Store, following a request from the government of China. VPNs have been used by activists and others to circumvent the Great Firewall, leading to a ban on their private use. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on opinion and expression registered concern over Apple’s move.4 Russia and Turkey have also enacted curbs on VPNs.5 Apple pulled The New York Times app from the Chinese App Store in 2017 following a government request.
Such actions have been reported widely and represent reputational risk to the company. CEO Tim Cook has said: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is our common promise to uphold the inherent dignity of all.”6 Article 14 states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”7 Yet Apple’s actions in China raise concerns about whether it is complicit with the Chinese state in repressing these freedoms.
Human rights violations in China are increasing. In the Uighur region there are reports that the Chinese state is forcibly sterilizing women and that guards are shaving the hair of Uighur prisoners and exporting it for profit.8 In Hong Kong, the new national security law imposed by the Chinese state is bringing the “Great Firewall” to that city for the first time.9
The 2019 Corporate Accountability Index by Ranking Digital Rights (“RDR”) ranked Apple 7th among 12 “internet and mobile ecosystem companies.” RDR criticized Apple’s governance of freedom of expression issues, including its lack of transparency on policies and practices related to freedom of expression.10 The information requested in this Proposal is intended to close those gaps. The Proposal does not request disclosure about actions that are unrelated to free expression or access to information.
We urge shareholders to vote for this Proposal.
- See Filing on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended September 28, 2019, at p. 54.
- See https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/china-and-tibet#eaa21f
- https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/03/russia-makes-it-illegal-to-insult-officials-or-publish- fake-news/