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Activists claim victory as Apple introduces New Human Rights Policy

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SFT and members of other activist groups stood in protest infront of the Apple store in NY in February 2020 (Photo-SFT)
SFT and members of other activist groups stood in protest infront of the Apple store in NY in February 2020 (Photo-SFT)

By Tenzin Dharpo

DHARAMSHALA, Sept. 8: Tech giant Apple introduced its maiden ‘Human Rights Policy’ last week after growing pressure from shareholders and protest from activists including Tibetans, Uyghur, Hong Konger, Chinese democracy, and ethical consumer activist groups.

The company received backlash for deleting thousands of apps including virtual private networks in countries like China and apps that tracked police movement in Hong Kong. Activists say that Apple is in violation of basic human rights and undermining of right of information and expression in countries it operates.

In February, during the annual shareholder meet, a proposal put forward by ethical consumer group SumOfUs urging the company to commit to “respect freedom of expression as a human right” received over 40% votes marking the growing pressure from shareholders.

“We believe in the critical importance of an open society in which information flows freely, and we’re convinced the best way we can continue to promote openness is to remain engaged, even where we may disagree with a country’s laws,” Apple said in the policy document, also adding that the policy is based on the United Nations’ guiding principles on business and human rights.

“The new human rights policy meets the first part of the resolution by publicly committing to respect freedom of information and expression as human rights, and is welcomed by activists. At the same time, the policy does not go far enough in outlining the implementation of the company’s commitment,” a coalition of NGO’s who campaigned against Apple said in a joint statement.

However, activists are sceptical as to how far Apple is willing to go to mend its ways. Pema Doma, Campaigns Director at Students for a Free Tibet said, “As a Tibetan-American, I am eager to continue engaging Apple to bring voices from impacted communities into the company’s decisions surrounding human rights.

“By bringing Tibetan, Uyghur, Hong Konger, Chinese, and other frontline iOS users to the table, Apple is setting a crucial example that can have a positive impact on global norms around freedom of expression for generations to come. This is just the first step, so I hope to see Apple continue in this direction.”

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