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Apple human rights record to face scrutiny by shareholders

By Hugh Wilson

iPhone maker faces calls to declare support for freedom of expression

Apple will face calls to make a public declaration of support for freedom of expression at its annual meeting next year.

Pressure group SumOfUs has tabled a resolution calling for the tech giant to make the declaration. It also wants Apple to describe how it responds to government requests that might limit free expression, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Apple has failed to have the declaration removed from the agenda of its annual meeting, likely to be held in late February.

The move comes after Apple was widely criticised for acquiescing with Chinese government requests to remove a mapping app during recent protests in Hong Hong.

The app was used by protesters to track police movements, and was removed days after criticism from Chinese state media.

Apple had “acquiesced to government demands that have limited individual freedom of expression”, said SumOfUs. It claims the company’s actions led to protesters being punished.

Any debate at next year’s annual meeting is likely to be symbolic. The institutional investors that dominate Apple’s shareholding are unlikely to support the call for a public declaration.

But the move comes at a delicate time for the company’s public image. It walks a fine line between upsetting authorities and being seen to cave in to the demands of repressive regimes.

The company fears that questions over its commitment to human rights might hit its high marks on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. These make it popular with many investors.

Apple said in October that it “must follow applicable law wherever it does business and believes in engaging with governments even when there may be disagreement”.

FURTHER READING: Apple stock predictions for 2020 and beyond

FURTHER READING: Apple withdraws mapping app that lets Hong Kong protesters track police

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