Shareholders tell Google to rethink China search product
Shareholders tell Google to rethink China search product and prioritize human rights
(Falls Church, Va., Feb. 27, 2019) — A coalition of Google shareholders has filed a resolution asking the company to publish a human rights impact assessment for a controversial censored search product — called “Dragonfly” — that Google is reportedly developing for use in China.
Led by Azzad Asset Management, the shareholders are concerned that Google’s compliance with China’s repressive laws would facilitate and legitimize surveillance and censorship, posing serious human rights risks.
The shareholders’ call to action at Google is timely given recent reports that Google is already censoring its search product in Russia, blacklisting websites according to government instructions. India’s government is considering new rules that could again implicate Google in censorship.
Open MIC, a non-profit that fosters shareholder engagement at leading tech and media companies, developed the proposal alongside lead filer Azzad, a socially responsible investment firm based in Virginia. The group of filers includes institutional and individual investors representing over $3 billion in assets under management.
In submitting the resolution, shareholders are asking Google to demonstrate that the company’s stated ethical codes, values, and policies are truly informing all its products in the global market. Advocates are concerned Dragonfly’s reported development may already be sending a dangerous signal to other governments, including authoritarian governments. Last Thursday, 14 members of Congress asked Google and Apple to remove a Saudi government app that both companies offer through their app stores; it includes a disturbing tracking component that allows men to register, track, and control the travel rights of women in their families.
The shareholder resolution asks Google to proactively assess all actual and potential risks before launching the Dragonfly product. Human rights experts say that a Google search product in China would serve as an additional surveillance tool for the government to use against all residents in China, and that Uighurs and religious minorities — who already face state violence, systemic discrimination and grave human rights abuses — face the greatest danger. Just last week, a New York Times investigation revealed that an American company has been deeply implicated in the surveillance and tracking of Uighur Muslims in China, affirming shareholders’ concern that Google must proactively assess its operations in China to avoid supporting the Chinese government’s documented human rights abuses.
Despite reports in December 2018 that the planning of Dragonfly had stalled, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has refused to say that the company will not proceed with its plans, and the company faces continued backlash. Last month, a coalition of Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, and human rights groups protested Dragonfly outside of 10 different Google offices around the globe. U.S. lawmakers and Google’s own engineers have also called on Google to end work on the project.
Joshua Brockwell, investment communications director at Azzad Asset Management, said: “As shareholders, we are concerned that Google’s powerful technology could produce data on citizens that their governments wouldn’t be able to reach on their own. We believe that technology companies have a responsibility to consider the human rights implications of how their products will be used.”
Jonas Kron of Trillium Asset Management said: “The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a framework for companies, including Alphabet, to ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ human rights. Now is the time for Google to demonstrate its commitment to this framework with specific reference to China. All eyes are on Google at this critical juncture.” Trillium co-filed the resolution.
Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC, said: “Google has long been a leader in global technology. It’s high time for Google to take the lead on human rights.”
In submitting this shareholder resolution, investors are asking Google to demonstrate its previously stated commitment to human rights and free expression for all its users, regardless of where they live — as these open internet values are precisely what fuel the company’s business success.
The resolution requests that the company publish the human rights impact assessment no later than October 30, 2019, and recommends that the company refer to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
About Azzad: Azzad Asset Management is a faith-based investment firm based in Falls Church, Va. Azzad is committed to providing investment services designed to help people enjoy optimum performance without compromising their values. The firm operates with the belief that companies in ethical lines of business offer relatively less business risk and are in a better position to thrive in the long term.
About Open MIC: Open MIC works to foster greater corporate accountability at media and technology companies. Our primary tool is shareholder engagement. Working with impact investors, Open MIC identifies, develops and supports campaigns that promote values of openness, equity, privacy, and diversity – values that provide long-term benefits for individuals, companies, the economy and the health of democratic society.