A bite of the Apple: working together for a win on freedom of expression

In October 2019, we sent letters to the 24 companies evaluated in the 2019 Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) Corporate Accountability Index, asking them to make at least one improvement on digital rights, based on their performance on the RDR Index. We asked Apple specifically to commit to respecting freedom of expression. We renewed this call in a November letter to Apple taking them to task for their censorship of apps, including in China.

We were pleased to receive Apple’s response on February 13, stating that “Apple has and always will consider freedom of expression a fundamental human right,” and that they “will consider providing additional details on [their] commitment in the future.” Our letter and Apple’s response are available on the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s (BHRRC) website.

Meanwhile, our partners at SumOfUs led a similar campaign, putting together a shareholder proposal calling on Apple to report whether it has publicly committed to respect freedom of expression as a human right. Although the shareholder proposal did not pass during Apple’s Annual General Meeting this week, it garnered the support of 40.6% of the shareholders, a strong stand against Apple’s recommendation that its shareholders reject the resolution. This level of shareholder support was particularly remarkable because similar proposals in 2016 and 2018 drew less than 10% approval.

Together, we consider this statement and the shareholder vote a win, thanks to the hard work of our partners at RDR, BHRRC, and SumOfUs. This campaign demonstrates when civil society comes together, we can drive meaningful change at the highest levels.

But, we’re not done yet! Although we count this as a win for our community and for users, we must continue to push Apple to follow through on its commitment. The company can start by detailing its App Store content policies and implementation processes.

For our part, we’ll update our community on responses from other companies that we contacted. Stay tuned!