Yahoo – Poster Boy for Internet Censorship

By Tony Cruz, Business and Human Rights Coordination Group

Shi Tao

Yahoo – the company responsible for the 10 year prison sentence of Chinese journalist, Shi Tao – “should be held up as the poster boy of good behavior.”

And thus was the overall tone of the Yahoo Shareholder Meeting I attended on June 24, 2010.

For four years in a row now, I have attended these Yahoo Shareholder Meetings on behalf of Amnesty International. Accompanied this year by Amnesty International Field Organizer, Will Butkus, we set out with our remaining goal to keep the pressure on Yahoo to push for the release of Shi Tao.

Five years ago, Shi Tao sent an email to a pro-democracy U.S. website about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre; an email which would put Yahoo on the human rights violations map when it gave Shi Tao’s personal user information to the Chinese government.

During this year’s shareholder meeting, Yahoo CEO, Carol Bartz, remained adamant about Yahoo’s desire to move past this issue. In her mind, so it seems that Yahoo has done enough. Well, it’s not enough. The bottom line is that Yahoo turned over Shi Tao’s information to the Chinese government. They violated international human rights, and as Bartz said last year “they made a mistake”

Amnesty's William Butkis and Tony Cruz at the Yahoo! shareholders meeting

So Yahoo can try to spin this in their favor all they’d like, but the facts remain the same. As long as Shi Tao still sits in prison, then Yahoo hasn’t done enough to get him out.

Yahoo has powerful influence in China that it can leverage to ensure Shi Tao’s release. For starters, Yahoo can pressure Chinese Internet company, Alibaba – which controls Yahoo! China in exchange for Yahoo’s 40% ownership share of Alibaba. As one of the largest and most powerful Internet companies in the world, Yahoo even has influence with the Chinese government. And it is up to Yahoo to use that influence until the day Shi Tao is released.

Below is the conversation between Amnesty International and Yahoo CEO, Carol Bartz, at the meeting (listen to full webcast here):

Cruz: Hi, Ms. Bartz. Tony Cruz here with Amnesty International. I was here last year and brought up the issue of internet censorship and Shi Tao, and when asked a question about this issue, you were quoted saying “That Yahoo is not incorporated to fix China. I’m sorry. It was incorporated to give people a free flow of information and ten years ago the company made a mistake, but you can’t hold us up as the bad boy forever.”

I understand that whenever we come to these meetings it’s an inconvenience. By the time I came up to bat last year, there were two colleagues who spoke on this issue about Shi Tao. It’s an inconvenience and all I can say is you take that feeling of how you felt inconvenienced and that discomfort you felt and you multiply it by a million and it pales in comparison to what this individual must feel like being in prison now for 5 years of10 year sentence.


Amnesty Int'l Blocked from Chevron Shareholder Meeting

By Tony Cruz, member of Amnesty International USA’s Business & Economic Relations Group

On Wednesday, May 27th, I traveled to Chevron’s Annual Shareholder Meeting to represent Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) and its interests as a shareholder of Chevron Corporation (CVX) and to join other NGOs in a delegation to address the company’s role in some of the most well publicized human rights abuses across the globe. Maybe you’ve heard the good news that Toxic Waste Won’t Make You Sick!

Unfortunately, I was turned away at the door. I had the AIUSA proxy (ticket) in hand, but I did not have a letter from the AIUSA brokerage firm. Chevron claimed that I lacked sufficient documentation to attend the meeting. In other words, I had the legal right to attend, but was denied entrance because of a technicality.

Attending these shareholder meetings is one the highlights of my year: a 3-5 minute war of words with the MAN, a verbal boxing match between Amnesty International and Chevron. Had I been allowed to represent AIUSA at the meeting, I would have made the following statement:

In a recent 60 Minutes interview, your representative claimed that the judicial system in Ecuador cannot be trusted. But the fact is that the trial is currently taking place in Ecuador at Chevron’s request after the company REQUESTED that it be transferred out of the U.S. federal court, where it was filed in 1993. Can you explain why you have changed your mind, aside from wanting to drag this case out as long as possible with utter disregard for the rights of the plaintiffs? And in the same interview, your representative claimed that the toxic sludge that the Ecuadorian communities are exposed to is no worse than the makeup she is wearing. Do you really believe that?

I didn’t get to represent AIUSA members inside the meeting, so I dusted myself off, walked to the front of Chevron Headquarters, and joined the strong 100 protesters in supporting the NGO delegation. Later that afternoon, I went online and read the headlines: Chevron Meeting Heats Up Over Ecuador Lawsuit; Chevron CEO Clashes with Activists at Annual Meeting; and “Chevron CEO says Resemblance to Pinocchio is just coincidental”. Ok, so I made that last one up. But it was a victory! The meeting received great press. I have never been more confident that Chevron will be held accountable because of everyday people, who showed up at the crack of dawn on a Wednesday morning in San Ramon, California to support people they will never meet.

Learn more about Amnesty’s Shareholder Activism