Apple Shareholders Shoot Down Proposal To Investigate Human Rights Concerns Amid China Collaboration

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Will Kessler Contributor
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Apple shareholders voted down a proposal on Wednesday that would require an internal investigation to be done to analyze if the company was following its own human rights policy positions.

The proposal, brought forward by the National Legal and Policy Center at Apple’s annual shareholder meeting, would have required a report be published by March 31, 2025, and aims to reveal incidents like the company restricting features on iPhones in late 2022 in areas experiencing protests to China’s zero-COVID policy. Apple has sought to maintain strong ties with China, with Tim Cook, Apple CEO, visiting the country and praising the two’s long history of cooperation last year, according to Reuters. (RELATED: China’s Top Electric Vehicle Maker Plots Invasion Into Western Markets)

Apple also removed The New York Times app from the app store in 2017 and removed the apps and Quartz in 2019 amid protests in China and Hong Kong concerning democracy and freedom of speech, according to the proposal. The restrictions are in contrast to actions taken at the onset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Apple halting the sale of products in the country to protest the violence.

“Considering these examples, it appears the Company’s principles to ’empower and connect people’ as ‘a force for good’ — while remaining ‘engaged’ even where it disagrees with a government and its laws, by still making its products ‘available’ to users — has its limits,” the proposal stated about the apparent discrepancies to the different approaches to potential human rights abuses.

There were a total of five proposals brought by shareholders, all of which were voted down, including another proposal that similarly calls for an investigation to report on the company’s support for groups hostile to freedom of expression, such as the Chinese Communist Party, asset manager and Apple shareholder Strive told the Daily Caller News Foundation. Apple removed popular Bible and Quran reading apps from the Chinese app store following pressure from the CCP.

“We are transparent about our approach to complex situations and commitment to engagement,” Apple said in a statement opposing the proposal. “We’re required to comply with local laws, and at times there are complex considerations and issues where we may disagree with governments and other stakeholders on the most appropriate path or outcome. In these instances, we prioritize engagement, advocating for the outcome we believe is in the best interests of our users — their privacy, their ability to express themselves, and their ability to access reliable information and helpful technology.”

In the past, Apple has been alleged to have ties to forced labor programs facilitated by the CCP involving the Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province. The Department of State has determined that since at least March 2017, the CCP has committed crimes against humanity and genocide toward the Uyghur people.

“At Strive, we know that China risk is investment risk,” Justin Danof, EVP of corporate governance at Strive, told the DCNF. “Apparently, that’s a hazard that other shareholders are willing to ignore, perhaps because many of them have conflicts when it comes to China. Apple says all the right things as it relates to human rights. However, the proposal elucidates many instances where the company’s actions in war zones and oppressive regimes don’t match the rhetoric. Many companies are rightly called out for greenwashing. This proposal rightly calls out Apple for human rights-washing.”

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