Despite the document’s idealistic language, the policy doesn’t commit to any change. It simply points out Apple’s existing approach to do good in the world, even if that involves complying with local laws on censorship.
For the first time, Apple is outlining its approach to human rights in a formal policy document. But don’t expect the company to take on a totalitarian government.
The policy document, dated August 2020, was spotted by SumofUs, an activist group that’s been calling on Apple to push back against China’s online censorship. In February, the group submitted a shareholder proposal that would’ve required Apple to publish annual reports on when it complied with government censorship demands. Although the proposal was voted down, Apple quietly decided to enshrine its commitment to human rights in an actual document.
There’s a lot of lovey-dovey, idealistic language in the policy. (For instance: “We’ve always said Apple’s soul is our people.”) But it doesn’t commit to any change; it simply points out Apple’s existing principles to do good in the world, and why they supposedly work—even if that requires abiding by a country’s censorship policies.
“We work every day to make quality products, including content and services, available to our users in a way that respects their human rights,” the policy says before adding: “We’re required to comply with local laws, and at times there are complex issues about which we may disagree with governments and other stakeholders on the right path forward.”
In other words: Sure, it sucks we comply with censorship laws, but our products can pave the way for some people to go online. The company is currently making this compromise in China, where Apple regularly takes down iOS apps over anti-government content.
The document goes on to say Apple is committed to international human rights standards from groups such as the United Nations. But again, that doesn’t mean the iPhone maker will ignore a totalitarian government’s restrictive rules on content.
“In keeping with the UN Guiding Principles, where national law and international human rights standards differ, we follow the higher standard. Where they are in conflict, we respect national law while seeking to respect the principles of internationally recognized human rights,” the document says.
There’s also no commitment from Apple to publish a new annual report on its effort to preserve human rights. Instead, the company is merely committed to using its existing processes to track the progress. This includes Apple’s annual report documenting working conditions at company suppliers, and its tracking of requests for user data from governments.
Still, SumofUs called the policy document a “win” for the group and its supporters.
“In its new human rights policy, Apple meets the first part of SumOfUs’s shareholder motion by publicly committing to respect freedom of information and expression as human rights,” the group said. “The campaigners and investors welcomed Apple’s new policy, and plan to file a new proposal for next year’s shareholder meeting which would require Apple to report to shareholders on the progress the company is making in implementing it.”
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