Rob Hanlon and I recently wrote an article in which we argued that the portrayal of Google as a defender of human rights for withdrawing from China is a theatrical performance (you can see the article here
, and the follow up here
). This morning I had an email from Salil Tripathi - Director of Policy at the Institute for Human Rights and Business
- who pointed me to two pieces he's written from a more positive perspective on Google's withdrawal from China (you can see them here
). Rob and I are not necessarily convinced by his argument, and we'll be following up with another article on this soon, but Salil's articles are interesting and worth a read.
One of the issues that concerns me about Google's response to our article (see the Google letter here
) is the way in which the company accuses us of "gross[ly] misunderstanding ... Google’s actions and motives" but then fails to demonstrate what we misunderstood. Apart from repeating a handful of publicly available statements (e.g., they entered China with 'reservations', that they were not failing China, and so on), the statement does little to convince us that they are indeed the defenders of human rights some (including Salil) make them out to be. But more troubling, and an issue we will take up in an upcoming article, is the claim that (in response to our view that withdrawing from China and not, say, Vietnam, smacks of 'human rights opportunism' - or as we call it "Google Theatre") "a comparison with other countries would not be responsible".
Why would it not be responsible? Is there some sort of hierarchy of human rights abuses, where a company can determine not to do business in countries with the 'worst violations' but remain in countries with 'lesser violations'? Surely human rights are human rights, and there is no gradation that allows Google to say that comparing its actions in one country with another are not responsible.
It is also interesting to note that Google did not mention the term 'human rights' once in its response to our article. That in itself is perhaps more telling than anything else...