Google's board of directors is opposing a ban on internet censorship as well as the creation of a committee that would review the company's policies on human rights, according to the company's proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and released publicly Tuesday.
At its annual meeting 8 May, the board will recommend that shareholders vote against a proposal that would require the company to take steps to ensure freedom of access to the internet. It also will advise a vote against a proposal calling for the company to form a committee to review its policies on human rights. The board, in the statement, did not give reasons for its positions.
The shareholder proposals were submitted separately by the Office of the Comptroller of New York City and St. Scholastica Monastery.
"Technology companies in the United States have failed to develop adequate standards by which they can conduct business with authoritarian governments while protecting human rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression," the proposal states.
In a statement New York City Comptroller William Thompson said his office was calling on Yahoo and Google to establish policies to protect against the infringement of basic freedoms by countries in which they did business.
"Both Yahoo and Google are companies based on the fundamentals of user trust," he said in the statement. "By allowing these countries to censor the information the users receive, that trust is broken."
A spokesman for the comptroller said the same measure was filed last year and voted down by Google shareholders. The funds controlled by the comptroller's office hold 3,588,131 shares in Yahoo and 679,497 shares in Google.
Google did not respond to requests for comment.
The second proposal would require Google to create a committee to review the company's human rights policies. That proposal was put forward by Harrington Investments, a firm that focuses on socially responsible investing.
"We're not surprised [by the board's position], but I wouldn't say we're dismayed either," said Harrington spokesman, Jack Ucciferri. "It's a corporate governance mechanism that I think that today's board of directors and corporate governance experts would be reluctant to implement because it ties fiduciary responsibility of the board directly to how the company deals with human rights."
Ucciferri added that his company's proposal was the first step in a multi-year process to introduce policy change at Google, and that his company was talking with Google about its responsibility in the area of human rights.
"We're hoping they're going to respond favorably and they are open to this idea but at this point they have opposed it," he said.
Ucciferri said his company is hoping that over time Google's board will come to understand that forming a human rights committee would be a corporate governance asset because it would be a mechanism for identifying potential issues earlier, and would allows the company to act before there has been damage to the company's reputation.
In a statement, the firm said that companies such Yahoo, Google and others "have been working to restrict access and filter information on the internet, as well as identify internet users, including bloggers who advocate democracy, leading to their arrest, imprisonment and often torture."
Google was criticized for launching a search service in 2006 aimed at Chinese users that blocks results considered objectionable to the Beijing government. The company said it struggled over the decision but concluded it was better to provide some internet service than none at all.
"While I'm not familiar with the Google shareholder proposals, generally we strongly support a company's need to have an understanding of the connection between their business and human rights in the countries where they're doing business and providing services," said Theresa Harris, International Justice Project director, at the Washington-based World Organization for Human Rights USA, .