Human and civil rights advocates join investors to press Facebook’s top institutional shareholders for concrete commitments ahead of the company’s Annual General Meeting.
Letter from 78 organizations released as Facebook agrees to conduct an audit of the social media platform’s impact on underrepresented communities and communities of color.
Facebook’s largest institutional investors – including well-known firms such as Vanguard, Fidelity and BlackRock – are being challenged to take action to address critical concerns regarding the social media platform’s handling of risk, privacy and transparency.
The pressure comes from 78 organizations which today released a joint letter calling on the big shareholders to step out from the background and use their influence to demand better from one of the world’s most powerful companies. The letter is signed by leaders of diverse organizations, including prominent human and civil rights groups, major impact investment firms, faith-based investors and foundations. Investors signing the letter represent approximately $62 billion in assets under management.
“We share a deep concern that Facebook Inc. is failing to both assess and address longstanding – yet urgent – human rights problems, including critical concerns regarding civil, political and privacy rights,” the letter states. “Facebook has consistently gambled with the rights and well-being of its more than two billion users – as well as the company’s future – without adequate consideration of the risks involved.”
The letter notes demands by advocates in the U.S. for an audit to assess the civil rights impact of Facebook’s policies and practices and the company’s agreement - confirmed earlier today - to conduct such an audit of the platform’s impact on underrepresented communities and communities of color. “We look forward to learning the results of that process and the implementation of appropriate corrective actions by the company,” the letter states.
The joint letter also highlights two shareholder resolutions that are currently pending at Facebook and notes calls to separate the roles of CEO and board Chair, both of which are now held by company founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has spent years promising change while only delivering more problems.
Facebook’s Annual General Meeting is scheduled to be held May 31 in Menlo Park, California.
“The diversity and breadth of the groups signing this letter is evidence of how widespread and deeply-rooted Facebook’s problems have become,” said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, a non-profit which works to foster greater corporate accountability in the media and tech sectors. “It’s well-past time for Facebook’s largest shareholders to speak up and get involved – for the good of their investments and the well-being of billions of people impacted by Facebook every day.”
You can read the full letter and see the list of signers here.
Quotes regarding the sign-on letter:
Natasha Lamb, managing partner, Arjuna Capital, filer of a pending shareholder resolution regarding Content Governance at Facebook:
“A small group of investors began sounding the alarm on Facebook’s content governance issues at last year’s annual meeting, but institutional investors voted down the shareholder proposal. The revelations of the last 7 months leave no excuse to defer to management, investor value is at risk.”
Jonas Kron, senior vice president, Trillium Asset Management, filer of pending shareholder resolution regarding a Risk Committee of Facebook’s board:
“While Facebook has recently announced some new policies and practices – largely in response to intense global criticism - we still do not have evidence that the company has moved beyond the whack-a-mole approach that created problems in the first place. The creation of a Risk Oversight Committee of the board would be a tangible demonstration that the corporate response will not be just technical and reactionary, but fundamental and long-term.”
Malkia Cyril, Executive Director at the Center for Media Justice:
“Right now, Facebook is not a safe platform for communities of color. Black activists regularly have content removed that mentions racism or white supremacy. Law enforcement agencies like Immigrations and Custom Enforcement access the Facebook data of immigrants without due process or cause. Muslim users on the platform face constant threats and harassment.
At the same time, White supremacists have been allowed to thrive on Facebook, violating civil rights and promoting hate speech without repercussions. It’s time for a change. A civil rights audit is a great and very necessary first step.”
Reem Suleiman, senior campaigner, SumOfUs:
“Last year, half of non-insider shareholders supported our proposal to institute an independent chair of the board so that Mark Zuckerberg would no longer be his own boss. Asset managers can no longer sit on their hands while shareholder value, user privacy, and human rights are gambled away by an imperial CEO.”
Sister Judy Byron, Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment:
“Since its founding almost fifty years ago, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have grounded our work on human rights. In 2013 our commitment to children’s rights and welfare motivated us to engage Facebook on the protection of the human rights of its younger users. Dialogue with company management left us unconvinced that Facebook’s business model adequately addressed risks to children’s rights to privacy. We continue to be concerned by online surveillance of children and teens and how the use of this information will impact kids’ health and well-being.”
Paloma Munoz Quick, program director, Investor Alliance for Human Rights:
“Put simply, Facebook doesn’t have a privacy problem; it has a human rights problem. In order to regain the trust of users in the United States and around the globe, the company must implement comprehensive human rights due diligence processes, in line with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, in order to identify, assess and address the full range of its human rights impacts.”
Peter Micek, general counsel, Access Now:
“To demonstrate respect for human rights, tech companies start by understanding how their products and services impact users and communities who are vulnerable and marginalized. With its varied and global offerings, Facebook needs a systematic approach toward human rights risks. Real change would mean carrying out human rights impact assessments, and integrating their lessons into the very structure of the company, including through diversifying its corporate board, creating a risk oversight committee, and engaging regularly with civil rights and investor advocacy groups. By matching action to its words, Facebook can help show other companies how to begin fixing persistent, damaging corporate blind spots on civil and human rights, diversity, and inclusion.”