Like millions of other people around the world, I cheered Tim Cook’s comments in response to a question from the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) at last Friday’s Apple shareholder meeting. The organization asked Cook to commit to only those things that were profitable—Cook refused, saying that Apple made decisions for a variety of reasons.
You would think that would be the end of the situation—sadly, it wasn’t. I don’t feel the need to defend Tim Cook, but I do feel it’s necessary to clarify some of the things that are being said after the shareholder meeting.
The NCPPR is known to be “climate change deniers.” There is nothing wrong with that—people and organizations are free to express their views and buy stock in companies. Having said that, it is interesting to read Greenpeace’s description of the NCPPR:
…it’s worth noting exactly who the NCPPR is, since the vanilla-sounding name doesn’t offer much. The NCPPR is a front group for fossil fuel companies that has spent decades seeding lies to create doubt about the reality of global warming. It received $445,000 in funding from Exxon Mobil from 1998 to 2008. More recently, the front group has marched in lockstep with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill that has produced model state legislation for discriminatory voter ID laws, Stand Your Ground gun laws, and attacks on clean energy.
I honestly don’t care about the NCPPR’s views one way or the other. However, they seem to have taken Cook’s comments, twisted them around, and ran with them to suit their needs—that’s dishonest. The truth is a bit different—that’s what I want to address here.
After the shareholder meeting, Justin Danhof, director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project, published the following statement:
“Although the National Center’s proposal did not receive the required votes to pass, millions of Apple shareholders now know that the company is involved with organizations that don’t appear to have the best interest of Apple’s investors in mind,” said Danhof. “Too often investors look at short-term returns and are unaware of corporate policy decisions that may affect long-term financial prospects. After today’s meeting, investors can be certain that Apple is wasting untold amounts of shareholder money to combat so-called climate change. The only remaining question is: how much?”
Here is what Tim Cook actually said during the shareholder meeting when the NCPPR asked him to commit to only pursuing profitable projects:
“No, I wouldn’t be willing to say that because we do things for other reasons than profit motives. We do things because they are right and just and that is who we are. That’s who we are as a company. I don’t…when I think about human rights, I don’t think about an ROI. When I think about making our products accessible for the people that can’t see or to help a kid with autism, I don’t think about a bloody ROI, and by the same token, I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view. It’s not how I look at it. My simple point was if you did only look at it in that way for the Maiden data center, the same decisions would have been made and so there are cases where you can see these two spheres connecting but I’m not going to say that that’s all I’m going to do by any means. I don’t look at it that way. Just to be very straightforward with you, if that’s a hard line for you, if you only want me to make things, make decisions that have a clear ROI, then you should get out of the stock just to be plain and simple.”
Thank you. I think it’s so important to remember that the Apple brand stands for something and you can’t take each piece of it and say, “This has a 20% ROI and this has a 15, and you shouldn’t have given this $100 million to education,” and all this kind of stuff. That’s not the way we look at it. It’s not who we are as people.
Danhof would have you believe that Apple is involved in some kind of conspiracy, but as you can see from the comments, Cook was addressing more than Apple’s moves to improve the environment1.
Apple is addressing worker safety in its factories, accessibility options for those in society that can benefit from those features, and yes, improving the environment from toxic chemicals.
Cook isn’t saying that anyone with a different view on climate change should abandon Apple’s stock2—that’s just Danhof’s twisted way of portraying the situation to add fuel to his fire. Cook is merely defending the principles that make Apple a great company. That is the reason most people invested in Apple in the first place.
I applaud Tim Cook for defending the products Apple makes that help the blind, or the autistic children, and the environment. Maybe the ROI isn’t as great on those items, I honestly don’t know, but Apple is a better company for recognizing those issues and addressing them where they can.
Doing what’s right isn’t always the easiest decision to make, but it is always the best one.