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Freedom of expression the next Apple transparency report?

Freedom of expression the next Apple transparency report?


An AAPL shareholder proposal calls for the Cupertino, California, company to add to its list of transparency and responsibility reports, with a new one on freedom of expression as a human right.

It expresses concern about Apple’s cooperation with the Chinese government in taking steps likely to reduce freedom of expression in the country, and wants the iPhone maker to fully disclose the actions it has taken and the oversight mechanisms for its policies in this field…

The proposal has been made by consumer group SumOfUs.

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, regarding the Company’s policies on freedom of expression and access to information, including whether it has publicly committed to respect freedom of expression as a human right; the oversight mechanisms for formulating and administering policies on freedom of expression and access to information; and a description of the actions Apple has taken in the past year in response to government or other third-party demands that were reasonably likely to limit free expression or access to information.

SumOfUs doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to explaining its arguments for the proposal.

‘Tim Cook talks a great game on privacy at home but quietly complies with the government of China’s cybersurveillance state,’ said Sondhya Gupta, campaign manager at SumOfUs. ‘By facilitating the government of China’s authoritarian regime, Apple is complicit in the brutal repression of Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other rights activists.

‘In failing to address these major human-rights risks, Apple exposes itself to significant reputational risk. Our shareholder proposal would ensure the company mitigates those risks by guaranteeing board-level accountability for freedom of expression. We’re delighted that ISS recognises this and is recommending shareholders support our proposal, to help bring about this change.’

Apple complies with China’s oppressive censorship laws, as well as direct demands by Beijing. The company has blocked over 1,000 virtual private network (VPN) apps from its China App Store, which enable people to browse the internet without being surveilled. It has delisted the HKmap.live app, which was used by people in the Hong Kong protests to avoid violent confrontation with the police. The company has also banned device engravings in Apple Stores in China that use “sensitive” terms that are blacklisted by the government of China — such as Tibet, Tiananmen, and the Dalai Lama.

Independent proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) has recommended that Apple shareholders vote in favor of the proposal for freedom of expression reporting.

Apple already publishes a transparency report on government requests for data and App Store removals, and may argue that this is sufficient.

The Apple shareholder meeting takes place on February 26, 2020.

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