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Google’s plans in Saudi Arabia: company ignores independent shareholder vote to respect human rights

Access Now is disappointed that Alphabet’s management failed to prioritize human rights when they voted to reject a civil society-backed shareholder proposal led by SumOfUs at the 2022 Annual General Meeting. The proposal comes after red flags were raised around the company’s plan to build a Cloud region in Saudi Arabia.

However, in spite of company leadership’s recommendation to vote against the proposal to commission a human rights assessment of the planned expansion of Cloud centers in countries with poor human rights records, the majority (57.6%) of independent shareholders voted in its favor,* sending a clear message that aligns with civil society’s call: put human rights first.

“While Access Now is troubled that this opportunity for Alphabet to elevate people over profits wasn’t seized by all, the number of independent shareholders’ votes that supported human rights assessments signals how close we are to sparking real change within one of the most influential companies in the world,” said Laura Okkonen, Investor Advocate at Access Now. “We will continue our work to ensure safeguards are in place before Google Cloud centers are built — and people’s private data is stored — in Saudi Arabia or other regions with poor human rights records.”

Google, along with other tech giants, has a long way to go in respecting the rights of people within the Middle East and North Africa region. 

“The privacy, safety, and security of millions of people across MENA rests in the hands of a few corporate actors with either no idea, or no concern, over how their actions directly affect people’s daily lives,” said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy Manager at Access Now. “Google’s further expansion into Saudi Arabia is in the spotlight today, but Big Tech is continually waltzing through the region’s back door, reaping profits while harming people’s rights.”

Access Now will continue to work with its partner organizations and  to pressure Alphabet to prioritize human rights within the company, and will be monitoring any and all developments taking place in Saudi Arabia.

*The Alphabet shareholder structure is multi-class, where shares belonging to a certain class have more votes per share than others. While the majority of independent shareholders supported this proposal, the combined votes from Alphabet’s executive and officers together with the ex-CEO resulted in a simple majority of 17.06%. Current and future independent shareholders at Alphabet should seriously consider the moral implications of investing where their voices are actively voted down by the executive management of a company seeking to bulk up its presence in rights abusing countries.