A number of human rights-related resolutions were filed last year at Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) annual shareholder meeting. Topics included Google’s conduct in China and conditions for Google workers. Alphabet’s board recommended votes against each, and they were all rejected.
Following this, 83 investors sent a letter to the company late last year, requesting a meeting to discuss how Alphabet could devise adequate controls to monitor its human rights risks. Particular concerns related to the lack of human rights governance; the risks of digital surveillance related to the company’s moves into health, location and financial data; as well as the risks of exacerbating bias, reinforcing discrimination and facilitating incitements to violence connected to the company’s algorithms.
When faced with the company’s refusal to advance the human rights agenda, over ten investors responsible for $2.4 trillion in assets co-filed a shareholder resolution (coordinated by the Investor Alliance for Human Rights). This investor resolution, which will be put to a vote in June 2020, calls on the company to set up an independent committee at board level tasked with monitoring human rights risks in its products and value chain. Backers include Axa Investment Managers, the Church of England, Aviva Investors, Robeco, Hermes EOS, Boston Common Asset Management, NEI Investments, Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge and Pury Pictet Turrettini & Cie.
This resolution comes after Ross LaJeunesse, Google’s former head of international relations, reports that he was sidelined for raising human rights concerns related to Google’s plans to create a censored search engine in China (Project Dragonfly).
“Given the size and influence of Alphabet, it is of crucial importance that the responsibility for the governance of human rights concerns is at board level”
Larisa Ruoff, Head of shareholder advocacy, Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge, Alphabet faces investor backlash over human rights policies (FT, 24 February 2020)