Tim Cook Explains Inspirations for Apple’s Stance on Human Rights

Tim CookApple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook named some of the people who have most inspired him and discussed Apple’s respect for human rights during an awards ceremony hosted in New York City by his alma mater, Auburn University. Cook was there to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences. As noted on Auburn University’s website, the award recognizes “people and partnerships that make significant and lasting contributions to people’s well-being locally and around the world.”

In his acceptance speech, Cook recalled the experience of seeing a cross-burning while he was growing up in 1960s Alabama. “This image was permanently imprinted on my brain and it would change my life forever,” said Cook.

Cook noted that he has three photos in his office – two of Robert Kennedy and one of Martin Luther King Jr. “They sacrificed everything, including their lives, as champions of human rights and human dignity,” said Cook. “Their images inspire me. They serve as a reminder to me every day that regardless of the path that one chooses, there are fundamental commitments that should be a part of one’s journey. For this reason and many others, I was very fortunate that my life’s journey took me to Apple.”

Cook noted that Apple is a company that believes in “advancing humanity through its products and through the equality of all of its employees.” Last month, Cook penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in support of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or ENDA, that seeks to end employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers.

Besides offering anti-discrimination protections for all of its U.S. workers, Cook pointed out Apple also provides accessibility for people with disabilities through its products. “These values guide us to make our products accessible for everyone,” stated Cook. He observed that people with disabilities are “frequently left in the shadows of technological advancements.” However, he noted that Apple’s engineers “go to extraordinary lengths to make our products accessible to people with various disabilities from blindness and deafness to various muscular disorders.”

Cook also noted that Apple’s “respect for human dignity” has led the company to educate the employees of companies that it works with on their human rights. “These values lead us to insist that the companies we work with comply with our code of conduct, which in many cases goes far beyond laws,” said Cook. Apple joined the Washington-based Fair Labor Association and implemented a compliance-monitoring program in 2012 after several widely-publicized employee suicides at one of Foxconn’s factories. The most recently released report from the FLA found that the Apple supplier is now 99 percent in compliance with FLA’s standards.

The Apple CEO concluded his speech with a challenge directed at young people to push for more human rights for all and to “vote against discrimination” and “advocate for immigration reform.” He noted that both policies are “great for the American economy” as well as “right and just.” Cook’s full speech can be viewed in the video below.

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