The Intersection of Human Rights, Freedom of Expression, and the Internet

Boston Common’s Proposal to Cisco Receives Over 12.5% of Vote at Cisco’s November 2005 Annual Meeting of Shareholders

BOSTON – Boston Common Asset Management helped launch the Joint Investor Statement on the Freedom of Expression and the Internet (Joint Statement) at a press conference on November 7, 2005 at the Overseas Press Club in New York City. Boston Common helped organize 20 initial signatories to the Joint Statement representing over $22 billion in assets. The statement asks Internet businesses to support freedom of expression worldwide and investors to commit to vote in favor of shareholder proposals that advance this goal. Boston Common co-authored the Joint Statement with Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders and another firm.

Boston Common recognizes that the long-term growth and viability of IT sector companies depends on the faith and perception of users that the Internet is open, reliable and secure. Numerous organizations have cited Internet companies including Cisco, Microsoft, Yahoo and others for helping repressive regime governments censor and/or monitor the Internet. This can and has lead to human rights abuses, where Internet users are surveilled and even jailed for expressing their opinions.

In response, Boston Common was the primary filer of a shareholder proposal in 2005 at Cisco Systems Inc. (NYSE: CSCO) asking the company to develop and implement a human rights policy. Boston Common presented the proposal at the company’s annual general meeting of shareholders on November 15, 2005 in Santa Clara, California. Boston Common’s proposal received over 12.5% vote in favor.

The Joint Statement, now endorsed by more than 25 institutions, is a way for active shareholders to empower the management of companies to not compromise on their commitment to human rights and long-term goals. It also reminds management that a growing number of investors care not only about earnings, but how those earnings are generated.

Boston Common invites other institutional shareholders to join us in asking Internet companies to honor basic human rights outlined in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights by endorsing the Joint Investor Statement on the Internet and Freedom of Expression.

Published On: February 6, 2006Categories: From the Commons