What you need to know
- Apple's annual shareholder meeting will take place on February 26 this year.
- An SEC filing has revealed that one of the shareholder's proposals concerns Apple's policy regarding freedom of expression.
- The information requested is designed to "close the gaps" when it comes to transparency over freedom of expression policies.
An Apple shareholder proposal to be voted on at its annual shareholder meeting in February 26 is requesting that its Board of Directors report annually on the company's policies on freedom of expression and access to information.
The proposal was revealed in a filing to the SEC. The report contains a lot of information about Apple's corporate operation, including executive compensation, corporate governance, how much Apple spends on air travel and more. It also contains details about Apple's annual meeting of shareholders, which is due to take place on February 26, 2020, at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park.
At the meeting, Apple shareholders will vote on several items of business including the election of directors, ratifying the appointment of an accounting firm and executive compensation. However, the final item to be voted on is titled 'Policies on Freedom of Expression.'
The shareholder proposal introduction states:
A supporting statement notes that Apple "sells products and services in countries whose governments limit free expression and punish dissent". Specifically, it names China, which accounted for 20% of Apple's net sales in 2018.
The proposal notes that Apple has cooperated with requests made by the government of China "to restrict freedom of expression and information." This includes but is not limited to removing all VPN apps from the Chinese App Store in 2017.
The proposal states that Apple removed 635 apps in 2018 for "legal violations" in 2018, 517 of those were in China. The vast majority of those relate to illegal gambling or pornography, but others remain unaccounted for. The proposal cites the removal of The New York Times app from the Chinese App Store in 2017 at the behest of the Chinese government, even footnoting a link to NYT's story on the subject. The proposal finally cites Apple's ranking in the 2019 Corporate Accountability Index by Ranking Digital Rights ("RDR").
The supporting statement concludes by saying that the proposal will "close the gaps" regarding Apple's approach to freedom of expression and access to information. It wouldn't require disclosure of actions not related to that, for example, the removal of apps that solicit illegal gambling.
Interestingly, Apple's Board of Directors is recommending a vote against this proposal. They state that free expression is essential to Apple and its success, but notes that it has an obligation to comply with local laws in the countries in which it operates:
The statement goes on to lay out some of the measures Apple already has in place, such as its Business Conduct Policy and its Supplier Responsibility team which help it to "strive to ensure that people throughout our supply chain have a safe and healthy workplace where they are treated with dignity and respect and that the planet we all share is protected." The board also says that it works with companies and NGOs to promote and protect human rights. In conclusion, it states:
The proposal requires an affirmative vote of a majority of the shares present and represented by proxy at the meeting. Given the board's recommendation against the proposal, it may well be that the measure is voted down by shareholders. However, the fact that it's even being voted on at all shows that concerns raised in recent months about Apple's approach to privacy has not escaped the attention of its shareholders.
The proposal cites as mentioned The New York Times article regarding the removal of its app from the China App Store, as well as an Ars Technica piece on Vladimir Putin's internet-censorship bills and an article about a letter sent to Apple over China's VPN demands. It seems that the public attention Apple has drawn to itself over certain incidents has prompted shareholders to request an annual report from Apple's Board of Directors, no doubt in part to hold Apple accountable, but also in the hope that "closing the gaps" will ease the minds of shareholders mindful of negative press Apple has received on the subject.
Master your iPhone in minutes
iMore offers spot-on advice and guidance from our team of experts, with decades of Apple device experience to lean on. Learn more with iMore!
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