Just a month after Apple received widespread praise for topping Fortune’s annual list of the world’s most admired companies, its shareholders gave a reality check.
In a historic vote at the company’s annual meeting, more than half of investors—including Norges Bank, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, as well as many of America’s largest public pension funds—have voted to support the civil rights audit proposal. Voted for
It was the first shareholder proposal to be passed in the company in 10 years – leaving a mark on Apple’s branding, marketing and external initiatives, which over the years have painted the picture of an inclusive changemaker within the tech industry that encourages users to “think different”. encourages.”
Leading in two organizations—Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Color of Change—dedicated to advocacy and advancing employee rights on behalf of front-line workers as black women, we know firsthand what happens when a workforce cries. So it’s a clear sign that problems lie deep beneath the well-organized surface of the company.
The rise of civil rights audit
Over the years, our organizations have led numerous civil rights and racial equity audits aimed at the nation’s largest corporations and financial institutions.
Corporations play a huge role in shaping socio-economic outcomes and well-being in our society. Often, this impact has a negative impact on marginalized communities – including black people, women, LGBTQ+ individuals and people with disabilities – by reinforcing inequality systems and creating products that present real-life threats.
Civil rights and racial equity audits provide organizations like ours, representing millions of people in affected and marginalized communities, with an effective mechanism for assessing accountability in companies that face criticism and Face concerns about the consequences of their decisions.
Given how inequality manifests within our nation’s systems, it is also doubly important for these audits to prioritize racial justice and avoid serving unfinished solutions, which leave out black workers and advocates who work in their industries. Bravely continue to make sweeping changes without equal and consistent consequences. risk of personal harm.
Until recently, most civil rights and racial equity audits were the result of organizations such as Color of Change, which successfully pressured companies to make up for the harm caused to Black and other marginalized communities. Now, shareholders are increasingly paying attention to the role independent audits play in holding corporations like Apple to account.
In Color of Change’s Beyond the Statement Tech Framework, we observed that “technologists must prioritize and adhere to civil rights and non-discrimination standards before a product is publicly released.”
Apple has repeatedly failed to uphold this standard. It has become quite clear that the company’s verbal commitments are not matching its actions, especially as Apple’s own products and practices impact its black and brown workers, customers and communities.
The company has come under fire since the launch of AirTag, a child sexual abuse material feature and tracking device, both of which raised major privacy concerns.
The maker of the iPod that revolutionized music distribution has allowed musicians who popularize racist content and claims about ties with white supremacists and neo-Nazis to remain on its streaming platform .
Apple’s efforts to diversify its workforce and leadership are progressing at a glacial pace: About 70% of Apple’s global leadership is male. The percentage of women employed by Apple globally was only 34% in 2020. The percentage of black and Hispanic workers in tech positions has never reached double digits—and only four percent of Apple’s leadership is black.
The company’s “head of diversity” is not even listed in the ranks of the Apple leadership, raising genuine concerns over the veracity of its commitments to raising equity.
While Apple polishes its exterior image, the rot at its core is garnering more attention. The company must respond to the 54% of shareholders (proposal filers SOC Investment Group, SEIU’s capital stewardship program led by Trillium Asset Management) who voted for the civil rights action.
It must respond to employees who will no longer be in a company that fails to address issues of harassment, discrimination and pay equity. global corporation workers have gone out To demand the company address workplace safety and to face retaliation has continued to bravely raise its voice.
Shareholders, racial justice advocates, and Apple workers will accept nothing less than a thorough and truly independent audit involving civil rights experts who oversee similar audits at companies like BlackRock, Airbnb, Facebook, and CitiGroup. experience to do.
Color of Change played a key role in conducting audits on Facebook and Airbnb. The latter later became a model for changing harmful corporate practices. These key players all understand that companies have to serve the interests of not only shareholders but also workers, vendors, customers and the wider community.
Apple must also recognize that this is just the beginning of the work that is needed to correct its failures and change harmful corporate practices. During every step of the process, we will be there to hold them accountable.
Tech companies like Apple and its peers should recognize that taking a deep dive into subtle forms of unconsciousness or discrimination today is a smart investment that will contribute to long-term shareholder value.
It’s also an important issue for a huge customer base whose trust will diminish with every negative headline and that of Apple’s own employees.
To live up to its title as the world’s most admired company, Apple needs to do the hard work it’s trying to avoid.
Jade Magnus Ogunike is Color of Change’s Senior Campaign Director.
René Manelli is the Deputy Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
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This story was originally featured on Fortune.com