Apple publishes new commitment to human rights document

Tim Cook
Tim Cook (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple has published a new human rights document.
  • The four-page document outlines Apple's commitment to treating everyone with dignity and respect
  • It balances human rights with complying with local laws in some authoritarian countries.

A new Apple document outlines the company's commitment to upholding human rights, freedom of information, and expression.

As reported by the Financial Times:

Apple has for the first time published a human rights policy that commits to respecting "freedom of information and expression", following years of criticism that it bows to demands from Beijing and carries out censorship in mainland China, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

The report notes the document was approved by the board and "quietly" published prior to a deadline for submitting motions for Apple's next shareholder's meeting.

The document is titled 'Our Commitment to Human Rights' and begins with a quote from Tim Cook:

"At Apple, we are optimistic about technology's awesome potential for good. But we know that it won't happen on its own. Every day, we work to infuse the devices we make with the humanity that makes us."

The document says that Apple is "committed to respecting the human rights of everyone whose lives we touch." Apple says this commitment extends not only to the technology it makes, but its supply chain, and how it treats people.

As noted, the move comes following heavy criticism of Apple for kowtowing to governments such as China and Russia over issues many see as human rights matters. The document notes that Apple, "in keeping with the UN Guiding Principles" will follow the higher standard where national law and international human rights standards differ. However, it also says that Apple will "respect national law while seeking to respect the principles of internationally recognized human rights."

In a press release today, SumOfUs Campaign Manager, Sondhya Gupta stated:

"Apple's adoption of a human rights policy is a breakthrough moment and we commend Apple for taking this first step. However, we still have questions about how the policy will be implemented and what oversight there will be. Apple has a huge influence on people's freedom of expression globally, and ultimately, the company's commitment to human rights will be measured by the difference it makes to the lives of millions of Apple customers living under cyber-surveillance in Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkestan, China, and elsewhere. We will continue to work alongside shareholders and human rights defenders in dialogue with Apple to ensure the company lives up to this responsibility."

SumOfUs says that with the new document, "Apple meets the first part of SumOfUs's shareholder motion by publicly committing to respect freedom of information and expression as human rights. 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."

Around 135,000 people have signed a SumOfUs petition calling for Apple to stop blocking VPN apps in China's App Store. SumOfUs states that Apple has blocked over 1,000 VPN apps at the request of the CCP in China. It is also critical of Apple's sluggish response to new Hong Kong security laws despite more decisive action from several major tech companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft.

You can read the full document here.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9