Apple and NCPPR: Talking Past Each Other

At the Apple Inc. Annual Meeting, The National Center for Public Policy Research offered a shareholder resolution (see Proposal Number 9 in the Apple Inc. Proxy Statement, which I include at the end of this post), which pointed out that Apple's adherence to "sustainability practices" were not in the overall interests of the average shareholder.

I also wonder about whether all of the principles of sustainability are actually useful, and which are simply an appeasement to the environmental movement. But, I think that Apple's management and the NCPPR used this resolution to make points to influential groups in their respective constituencies about their adherence to abstract principles that make very little difference to the ecology of the Earth or to corporate governance.

I think that Apple has a legitimate interest-- as one of the most valuable companies on Earth-- to avoid as much confrontation with anti-corporate protesters as possible. If involvement in these sustainability advancement organizations furthers helps them achieve those goals, then more power to Apple.

I don't think that Tim Cook could make that point in the public meeting even if he wanted to. He doesn't often go out of his way to make bold public statements, but when he does, he positions Apple as a progressive company and seems to espouse these views personally.

The National Center for Public Policy Research strikes me as a conservative activist group, which gets its support from people who are closer to libertarian in the business philosophy than progressive.

I imagine that the NCPPR only gets donations from people if they bring their issues before shareholders in this, almost theatrical, way. And, from what I understand, the NCPPR's representative pushed his point too aggressively when given the opportunity to speak.

I think Cook did an excellent job redirecting the NCPPR representative's request that Apple only do those things that are profitable by focusing on the development of accessibility features in Apple's handheld and personal computers. (Excellent coverage of this exchange is in the MacObserver editorial by Bryan Chaffin.) I strongly believe that Apple leads the industry in most respects in terms of making its devices accessible to the handicapped, and this is often not understood by the general public.

Accessibility is not an easy thing to build into visually-oriented products, but Apple has shown through decades of research and small advancements, that it is a leader in this important field. And making these features available cannot be as profitable as catering to wants and needs of the general public.

Where I will disagree with Apple in the future is if they advocate for macroeconomic policies in the United States that are unsustainable for companies that are not their size and do not have their level of profitability. I don't see Apple doing that right now.

Here is the NPPC's shareholder resolution, which did not pass:

Resolved: Shareholders of Apple, [ sic ] Inc. ("Apple") urge the board of directors (the "board") to authorize the preparation of a report, updated annually, disclosing:

  1. Apple's membership in any trade association or organization that educates members about sustainability practices, assists members in the development of sustainability practices, encourages members to engage in sustainability practices or requires members to undertake sustainability actions.
  2. Payments made by Apple to trade associations or organizations of which Apple is a member that meet any of the definitions set forth in #1, above.

  3. Registration with, membership in or subscription to any independent sustainability rating processes, registries and/or organizations to which Apple makes payments that rate Apple products for sustainability purposes and intentionally make results of such evaluations, in whole or in part, available to the public.
  4. The amount of payments made by Apple to entities that meet any of the definitions set forth in #3, above.
    The report, excluding proprietary information and information related to legal compliance, shall be presented to the Audit and Finance Committee of the board or other relevant oversight committees of the board and posted on Apple's website.