Google withdraws from China

On the 22nd March, Google announced that it had stopped filtering results on Google.cn based in China. The withdrawal followed two months of tense negotiations following Google’s reaction to coordinated cyber attacks on the gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents. In its negotiations, Google had sought to persuade Chinese authorities to allow it to operate an unfiltered search engine. But Chinese officials had made it “crystal clear … that self-censorship is non-negotiable”. Since its withdrawal Google has re-directed mainland users to its search engine based in Hong Kong. But so far it seems this attempt to avoid Chinese cenorship has been unsuccessful.

Google is to be congratulated.What it has done gives rise to a general issue of corporate responsibility to observe international human rights where to do so might jeopardise shareholder profitablity. Traditionally, subject to its founding documents, the function of a corporation was to make a profit and the directors were not authorised  to direct its business activities to anything else. As a 19th century Judge once put it “a company has neither a soul to be damned, nor a body to be kicked.”  More recently,  ‘corporate social responsiblity’ has become topical. This, however, has been mostly in reference to environmental considerations and perhaps labour standards rather than observing international human rights obligations not reflected in local law.

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Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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