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Apple approve civil rights audit

Fri 29 Apr 2022

A proposal by Apple’s shareholders last month that asked the tech giant to undertake a civil rights audit was passed with 54% of votes cast at the AGM held in March.


Driven by the SOC Investment Group, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Trillium Asset Management, the non-binding proposal was initially opposed by Apple’s leadership but spokesman Josh Rosenstock told the Washington Post in a statement that:

“We are deeply committed to building a more just and inclusive world and will continue to engage with a range of stakeholders as we move forward with plans to conduct a civil rights audit,” said Rosenstock.


Taking action

While Apple is not required to undertake the audit, not doing so may have led to a backlash from employee groups and activists. Organisations, including Airbnb and Facebook, have already performed their own civil rights audits, with McDonald’s also set to vote on a civil rights audit soon.

Some shareholders, including the SOC Investment Group, are concerned that Apple has not established comprehensive plans that adequately confront the challenges around addressing racial inequalities in the company.

In recent years, Apple has been faced with a number of controversies around employee treatment, as well as being the target of complaints to the National Labour Relations Board. Cher Scarlett, a former Apple software engineer, left the firm after alleging that Apple is blocking staff-run surveys on pay equity information.

“They’re spending money on racial and mostly philanthropic initiatives and don’t really address the company’s own policies,” Dieter Waizenegger, executive director of SOC, told MarketWatch. “The chief diversity officer is not in the C-suite, and there’s a really low percentage of Black officers in the company. Whatever the company’s doing, it seems like there’s a gap.”

In recent weeks, racial justice group Colour of Change met with Apple’s executives to push for a comprehensive audit that is led by an independent auditor who will ensure that any potential issues are recognised and raised. Apple has not yet provided details of how exactly it intends to carry out the audit.

When other tech organisations have launched similar audits, the results have been mixed. Meta, owners of Facebook, received its own audit results in July 2020, led by civil rights expert Laura Murphy, and has, to date, only implemented just over half of the recommendations.

Murphy’s independent audit also noted that some of the decisions made by Facebook were ‘setbacks for civil rights’.

“Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression,” wrote the auditors in the report.

However, Airbnb underwent a civil rights audit in 2016 and racial justice organization Colour Of Change have called the firms’ efforts to be a model for big tech peers.


New initiatives

Before the civil rights audit was agreed by Apple, it argued that an audit was not needed due to the work and commitments it had already implemented. The tech giant has already committed to providing $130 million towards the creation of a racial equity and justice fund soon after the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

It is unusual for Apple’s shareholders to go against board recommendations, with this proposal approval being the first time in many years a shareholder proposal was voted for.

“We believe our current framework for the implementation and oversight of our human rights commitments is more effective than the broad and unfocused audit requested by the proposal,” Apple’s board wrote.


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