Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Yahoo Shareholders' Dissent...

Earlier this week, Yahoo shareholders exhibited a strong dissent at the company's annual meeting. They were 1) seeking to tie executive pay to competitive performance, and 2) challenging the company's human rights policies, particularly in China. Though they were ultimately defeated, the strong minority of shareholders espousing these positions offer a glimmer of hope in Digital Age ethics.

It's one thing for human rights groups and observant bystanders to criticize a global corporation for certain policies. After all, Yahoo, Google, and other cyber-centric companies have been rightfully put under increasing public scrutiny for their efforts at helping repressive regimes in China and Iran censor internet content, restrict speech, and even help identify and track down freedom-seeking dissidents in those countries. But it's an altogether different story when the shareholders from within the company, not only criticize their own policies, but actually do something proactive against it - attempting to block the election of board members.

Google's motto of "Don't be Evil" took a hit when the search engine giant decided to comply with Chinese censorship laws in order to do business in that huge emerging market - and the public wasn't too thrilled, but viewed it as hardly surprising. In the world we live in, profit margins and the business bottom line are assumed to trump little luxuries like human rights. However, what the Yahoo shareholders have demonstrated is that maybe we're not quite as ready to sell our souls as the cynical side of our thinking often leads to us to believe. The dissent of the Yahoo shareholders is a case study in how some people still choose to do the right thing, rather than become a little richer.

Cheers to courage.


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