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154 Civil Society Organizations Write A Joint Letter To Apple On Human Rights

Apple has failed to enact the human rights policy it introduced in August, and has suppressed a shareholder proposal raising human rights concerns, according to a coalition of shareholders, campaigners and Tibetan, Uyghur and Hongkonger human rights defenders.

The tech giant introduced the new policy following shareholder pressure over its respect for human rights in China, including blocking apps like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from China’s App Store that help users evade censorship and surveillance. Shareholders filed a new proposal calling on Apple to report on how it is implementing the human rights policy, but Apple’s lawyers took action to prevent the proposal being discussed or voted on. Over 150 civil society organizations representing over 18 million people worldwide today wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook demanding Apple address human rights concerns.

Tim Cook
Apple Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014 USA

CC: Jane Horvath, Senior Director of Global Privacy

Philip Schiller, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Marketing

December 18, 2020

“If one day you could wave a wand and everybody would treat each other with dignity and respect, there are many, many problems that would go away with that.” ~Tim Cook

Dear Tim Cook, 

We are a coalition of 154 activist groups and rights organizations representing Tibetan, Uyghur, Southern Mongolian, Hongkonger, Taiwanese, and Chinese people. We are writing in response to Apple’s continued failure to protect freedom of information and expression, despite a new policy affirming its commitment to human rights. Our combined membership equals over 18 million individuals worldwide who are gravely concerned about the seemingly growing complicity of western corporations like Apple in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) human rights atrocities. We are looking not for a magic wand but for concrete action from Apple.

In June, at the Worldwide Developers Conference, you addressed the issue of equality head-on saying: “We must all aim far higher to build a future that lives up to our ideals. This means taking action.” While your statement was addressing racial justice, it was swiftly followed by Apple’s Human Rights Policy, formalizing the company’s commitment to human rights on a global scale, including supply chain standards and the rights of freedom of expression, access to information, and privacy. We were initially encouraged by this move.

However, simply writing a policy document does not in and of itself constitute upholding human rights or taking action for social justice. As you are aware, a number of our coalition members have been engaged in dialogue with Apple in an attempt to ensure Apple is taking serious steps to implement its Human Rights Policy and that the Company’s actions around human rights for those living under the Chinese government’s rule actually line up with its stated beliefs. The dialogue was entered into in good faith, believing that Apple would act with integrity and openness about developing concrete methods of implementation. This now appears to be far from reality given:

  • The Company’s lobbying efforts to undermine and make less transparent Apple’s responsibilities under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, despite statements that Apple is dedicated to the “goal of eradicating forced labor;”
  • continued repression of freedom of expression in Hong Kong by banning Apple Store employees from publicly supporting the pro-democracy movement and censoring people choosing pro-freedom and pro-democracy slogans for product engraving; and
  • failure to detail mechanisms for implementing the “commitments” laid out in Apple’s Human Rights Policy, specifically the adherence to freedom of information and expression, as well as the right to freedom of association, including for Apple workers.

We know you are aware of the extent of China’s repression across China, occupied Tibet, East Turkistan, Southern Mongolia, and most recently Hong Kong. It’s hard to overstate the chilling effect the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) censorship and surveillance regime has on freedom of expression, severely restricting and limiting the civil and political rights of those living under Chinese rule. This includes the construction of an Orwellian surveillance state in occupied Tibet, the incarceration of between 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs, the recent demolition of “One Country Two Systems” in Hong Kong that breaches multiple international laws and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, cultural genocide in Southern Mongolia, the ongoing military intimidation and geopolitical bullying of Taiwan, and the detention, disappearance, and death of countless Chinese lawyers, feminists, democracy activists, and anyone else deemed a threat by the Chinese Communist Party.

Furthermore you must be aware that China has developed a mass forced labor and transfer system in East Turkistan and Tibet, with millions of individuals being subjected to centralized, “military-style” vocational training with systemic coercion and indoctrination. Uyghurs and Tibetans are being transferred away from their homelands to work in other regions, and Apple—as a company operating in the People’s Republic of China—cannot guarantee at this point that the Company is not benefiting from this labor force.

On December 2nd, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam, and Joshua Wong were sentenced for their involvement in mass protests in 2019, charged with “unlawful assembly.” Through Joshua’s colleagues, we learned that “evidence” was seized from his iPhone XR by authorities. Despite not giving permission or his password to access private communications, his phone was weaponized and used against him in the courtroom. The trial of these activists is a clear crackdown on civil liberties and illustrates how private entities—like Apple—can enable human rights violations. 

Apple simply cannot continue to repeat the age old rhetoric that engagement is the pathway forward to improving human rights in China and regions under the Chinese government’s control, and that the Company’s hands are tied given national law. Apple must not abandon users living under authoritarian regimes. Doing so exposes Apple’s policy as little more than words on paper for millions of iOS users, including those who live in China and its occupied territories, who make up nearly one third of Apple’s total customer base. Both the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance note businesses must mitigate harm linked to their operations, even if the businesses haven’t directly contributed to the harm. Furthermore, the evidence is indisputable that human rights in China around freedom of expression, access to information, and more have seriously deteriorated since the period that Apple entered the Chinese market; information that you cannot continue to ignore.

There is of course no magic wand to simply wave away the brutality the communities we represent face due to actions from both the government of China and Apple itself, including times of inaction by the Company. Instead of conjuring up images of fairy tales, what people need is Apple to take concrete steps towards a positive future in which they are treated with dignity and respect. Apple must commit to the implementation of fundamental changes to help ensure that the freedoms and safety of Apple users everywhere—including in Tibet, East Turkistan, Southern Mongolia, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan—are upheld. 

Detailed, concrete steps have already been thoroughly outlined by members of our coalition in a document provided to members of your staff on November 10, 2020. We urge that you and your team wholeheartedly implement these steps to solidify the Company’s commitment to its Human Rights Policy and begin on the path to the “many, many problems” being addressed through concrete solutions provided. Please note that there has been no response from your team to the solutions paper that was submitted and we politely ask that you hasten a reply. 


Lhadon Tethong, Tibet Action Institute, Vicky Wyatt, SumOfUs, Mandie McKeown, International Tibet Network Dolkun Isa, World Uyghur Congress, Dorjee Tseten, Students for a Free Tibet, Rushan Abbas, Campaign for Uyghurs, Francis Hui,  We The HongKongers Jenny WangKeep Taiwan Free, Teng Biao, China Against the Death Penalty, Enghebatu Togochog, Southern Mongolian HumanRights Center

On behalf of the following global organizations:

Aide aux Refugies Tibetains

Association Drôme Ardèche-Tibet

Associazione Italia-Tibet

Arcipelago laogai: in memoria di Harry Wu

Anterrashtriya Bharat – Tibbet Sahyog Samiti

Australia Tibet Council

Association Cognizance Tibet, North Carolina

Amigos de Tibet, Colombia

Amigos del Tíbet, Chile 

Amigos del Tibet, El Salvador

Asociación Cultural Peruano Tibetana 

Asociación Cultural Tibetano Costarricense

AREF International Onlus

Bharrat Tibbat Sahyog Manch, IndiaBay Area Friends of Tibet

Boston Tibet Network

Briancon05 Urgence Tibet


Czechs Support Tibet

China Alarm

Circle of Friends (Philippines)

Core Group for Tibetan Cause, India

Canada Tibet Committee

Committee of 100 for Tibet

Casa Tibet México

Centro De Cultura Tibetana, Brazil 

Casa del Tibet – Spain

Comite de Apoyo al Tibet (CAT)

Daily Hong Kong

Defend Democracy

DC Chapter of CDP

Dream for Children, Japan

Free Indo-Pacific Alliance

Free Tibet Fukuoka

Foundation for Universal Responsibility of H. H. the Dalai Lama

Friends of Tibet New Zealand

Friends of Tibet in Costa Rica

Friends of Tibet in Finland

EcoTibet Ireland

Étudiants pour un Tibet Libre 


Free Tibet

Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete, Portugal

Hong Kong Political Affairs and Social Services (HKPASS) at UC Davis

Hongkonger in Deutschland e.V.

Humanitarian China 人道中国

Hong Kong International Alliance 

Hong Kong Committee in Norway

Human Rights Network for Tibet and Taiwan

Hong Kongers in San Francisco Bay Area

Hong Kong Social Action Movements

India Tibet Friendship Society

International Society of Human Rights, Munich Chapter (IGFM)

International Campaign for Tibet

International Tibet Independence Movement

Israeli Friends of the Tibetan People

Justice For All

Japan Association of Monks for Tibet (Super Sangha)

Les Amis du Tibet – Belgium

Lungta Association Belgium

Lamp of Liberty

Les Amis du Tibet Luxembourg

Lions Des Neiges Mont Blanc, France

Le Club Français, Paraguay

Libertad Para Tíbet

Maison des Himalayas

Maison du Tibet – Tibet Info

Mandala Feng Shui

National Committee of Democratic Party of China

National Campaign for Tibetan Support, India

National Democratic Party of Tibet

Objectif Tibet

The Norwegian Uyghur Committee

Passeport Tibetain

Phagma Drolma-Arya Tara

RangZen: Movimento Tibete Livre, Brazil

REACH India Group

Roof of the World Foundation, Indonesia

San Francisco Hong Kongers

Save Tibet Indonesia

Students for a Free Tibet – Japan

Students for a Free Tibet – India

Sakya Trinley Ling

Santa Barbara Friends of Tibet

Sierra Friends of Tibet

Students for a Free Tibet – Canada

Save Tibet, Austria

Society for Threatened Peoples International

Students for a Free Tibet – UK

Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association (GSTF)

Swedish Tibet Committee

Students for a Free Tibet Denmark

Save Tibet Foundation

Taiwan Friends of Tibet

The Youth Liberation Front of Tibet, Mongolia and Turkestan

Tibet Lives, India

Tibet Support Group Kiku, Japan

Tibetan Women’s Association (Central)

Torontonian HongKongers Action Group

Toronto Association for Democracy in China

Tibet Action Group of Western Australia

Tibet Support Group Adelaide – Australia

Tibetan Community of Australia (Victoria) Inc.

Tibetan Community, Queensland 

Tibet Support Group Kenya

Tibet Society of South Africa

Tibet Rescue Initiative in Africa

Tibet Committee of Fairbanks

Tibet Justice Center

Tibetan Association of Ithaca

Tibetan Association of Northern California

Tibetan Association of Philadelphia

Tibetan Cultural Association – Quebec

Tibetans of Mixed Heritage


Tibet Mx 

Tibet Group, Panama

Tíbet Patria Libre, Uruguay

Tashi Delek Bordeaux

Tibet Initiative Deutschland

Tibet Society, U.K.

Tibet Support Group – Netherlands

Tibetan Association of Germany

Tibetan Community Austria

Tibetan Community in Britain

Tibetan Community in Ireland

Tibetan Youth Association in Europe

Tibetan Community of Italy 

Tibetisches Zentrum Hamburg

The Norwegian Tibet Committee

Tibet Support Committee Denmark

Tibetan Community in Denmark

Tibetan Community Sweden

Tibet cesky (Tibet in Czech)

Tibetan Programme of The Other Space Foundation

TSG – Slovenia

U.S. Tibet Committee

United Nations for a Free Tibet (UNFFT)

US HongKongers Club

Uyghur association of Victoria, Australia

US HongKongers Club

Uyghur association of Victoria, Australia

Vereniging Free Uyghur Nederland 

Victims of Communism

Voces de Tibet

World League for Freedom and Democracy


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