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Shareholder proposal assails Cook for China policy, SPLC donations

The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a Virginia-based conservative pressure group, plans to introduce a shareholder proposal for Apple to "review its policies related to human rights" in China.

Tim Cook



The NLPC, in a letter published Wednesday, announced that it has filed a "shareholder proposal" with Apple, which the group's chairman, Peter Flaherty, plans to present at Apple's annual meeting next year. In the letter, Flaherty presents himself as an Apple shareholder, though its unclear how much stock he owns.

In the letter, titled "Tim Cook's hypocrisy," Flaherty has two major complaints: The company's association with China — which he says is responsible for "the most ambitious assault on free speech in human history," and Apple's donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which Flaherty says "seeks to silence and smear groups and individuals with which it disagrees on policy issues."

"The Company operates in nations with systematic human rights abuses. The Company has abetted certain governments and non-governmental organizations in suppressing freedom of speech and association," Flaherty's letter says. He goes on to assail Cook for co-chairing the China Development Forum and the World Internet Conference, while also having "transferred operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a state-owned enterprise called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data."

Apple's decision to migrate Chinese iCloud operations to GCBD was designed to comply with local cybersecurity laws. In response to criticism about the move, the company last year said its Chinese servers do not include backdoors, adding that it would be control of iCloud keys, not GCBD.

The letter does not mention some of the more frequent criticisms of Apple's behavior in China, most notably that the majority of its supply chain is located there, as well as issues related to the treatment of workers.

NLPC is also critical of Apple for its relationship with the SPLC, to which Apple donated $1 million in August 2017 after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. The company began allowing iTunes donations to the SPLC the same month.

The letter criticizes the SPLC for its practice of declaring certain organizations "hate groups," and Apple for donating to them.

It concludes by stating that "shareholders request management review its policies related to human rights to assess whether the Company needs to adopt and implement additional policies and to report its findings, omitting proprietary information and prepared at a reasonable expense by December 31, 2019."

Flaherty and NLPC are peripherally associated with the ongoing Robert Mueller probe, as the group is funding a legal challenge for Andrew Miller, a former aide to longtime Trump associate Roger Stone.

In 2015, another proposal from an Apple shareholder asked Apple to add "people of color" to its senior executive ranks. Apple ultimately rejected the proposal, stating that "this proposal would require the Board to adopt an accelerated recruitment policy for increasing diversity among senior management and the Board. We believe that the proposal is unduly burdensome and not necessary because Apple has demonstrated to shareholders its commitment to inclusion and diversity, which are core values for our company."

Editor's note: Due to its political nature, comments for this article have been disabled.