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Doubts On Yahoo's Human Rights Code of Conduct 100

Posted by kdawson
from the do-as-i-say dept.
Ian Lamont writes "The US Senate has been pushing American technology companies to work with rights groups to develop a human rights code of conduct, which would help to guide their overseas activities. Yahoo now claims that it has established the 'core components' of a global code of conduct, and a more complete version will be ready this fall. However, the Industry Standard notes that there's a fundamental flaw with such efforts: US law is not world law. Following the local laws is a requirement of doing business in any country, and conflicts between corporate ethics and the law of the land in which these corporations do business are inevitable. The US Senate's push for such a code was prompted by a number of incidents, including Yahoo's complicity in the arrest of Chinese dissidents and a Chinese journalist."
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Doubts On Yahoo's Human Rights Code of Conduct

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  • by jeiler (1106393) <go.bugger.off@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Sunday August 17, 2008 @01:55AM (#24632323) Journal

    Middle Kingdrom syndrome is the tendency to believe that "our" culture is the best, and that "our" laws, customs, and culture should supercede all other laws, customs, and culture.

    China is occasionally accused of Middle Kingdom syndrome by some Americans. Seems that the pot is still calling the kettle nasty names.

    • by XanC (644172)

      The tendency to believe that all aspects of all cultures are equally "valid".

      • by jeiler (1106393)

        Equally "valid"? First and foremost ... define "valid." Then kindly point out where I made any such suggestion. If you cannot do so, then kindly take your strawman and stuff him somewhere you'll always know where it's at.

        I greatly prefer Western-style cultures, but that does not prevent me from seeing a double standard when such exists.

        • by strabes (1075839)
          Disclaimer: I am a libertarian caucasian male born and living in the United States. Some of the things I mention are governmental policies, some are cultural practices, and some are both.

          I would define "invalid" as burning women alive with their dead husbands, allowing child labor, forcing women to cover their entire bodies and not speak in public, not allowing women to be educated or work in the same way as men, disregarding basic human rights, and even disregarding basic property rights and respect for
          • by Xiaran (836924)
            As an American what are your views on the Death sentence and trying children as adults. Im not American and regard these practices as "invalid"... barbaric in fact.
            • by strabes (1075839)
              Personally I'm against the death penalty, mainly because one's life (and one's rights) are what the State should be trying to protect. Also there is always the possibility of mistake.

              Regarding trying children as adults: it really depends. There's a big difference between a 4 year old shooting someone (they can barely speak properly, let alone make sense of what they're doing) and a 16 year old shooting someone.

              Hope this helps and shows you that I'm not a barbaric American!! Mind if I ask from which co
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by iamacat (583406)

                There's a big difference between a 4 year old shooting someone (they can barely speak properly, let alone make sense of what they're doing) and a 16 year old shooting someone.

                Then why doesn't a 16 year old have different civil rights compared to a 4 year old? If someone is responsible enough for their actions to spend the rest of their life behind bars for a bad judgement that lasted for 5 minutes, they should be allowed the freedom to escape the circumstances that are driving them to such rage. For example, leave abusive parents, find a regular sexual partner of their choice, relax with a cigarette or a beer, stop going to school where the gang members congregate or move to ano

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, I would agree with you if it weren't for the fact that the UN - of which China is a part - adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. China was even a member at the time the declaration was adopted.

      Those rights are pretty much in line with our own Bill of Rights. While we may not have exactly the best track record (especially in the last decade) of upholding those ideals, we're far and away much less black in this regard then the kettle.

      Saying that this is "our" culture and not something the C

      • Does the US, by virtue of being a member of the UN, agree that socialized medicine [wikipedia.org] is a natural right? I happen to think that it *is*, but the notion that this can be divorced from my west-coast, hippy-dippy culture is ludicrous.

        Also, there is a question of the facts here. Is the US government actually doing something to protect the natural rights of Chinese citizens (which, FWIW, I agree that they have) - or is something else going on? The most likely explanation is just that the US Congress wants

    • Middle Kingdom syndrome is the tendency to believe that "our" culture is the best, and that "our" laws, customs, and culture should supersede all other laws, customs, and culture.

      So it's okay for China to shoot dissidents in cold blood? And build a firewall out their country that shields their citizens from such undesirable ideas as democracy and free speech?

      C'mon. You don't REALLY believe that? I mean, I'm as ecumenically minded and politically progressive as the next guy, but c'mon. I believe in the ideas outlined in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I believe that all people are created equal and should have equal rights and protection under law. I believe t

      • by jeiler (1106393)

        Do I believe it's OK? Hell, no! By the same token, I also don't believe that this measure (even if successfully passed into law) will change the actions of even a single Chinese government official. Heck, I don't think it's going to make a damn bit of difference with Yahoo, either.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter (624760) *
        "So it's okay for China to shoot dissidents in cold blood? And build a firewall out their country that shields their citizens from such undesirable ideas as democracy and free speech?"

        No it isn't, but the bill of rights certainly hasn't helped any 'illegal combatants'. I believe the point the GP was trying to make is that senate involvement in this 'code of conduct' was just the US throwing stones in it's own glasshouse, yet again. When you start lecturing people/nations about what's "right" they will lo
        • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

          No it isn't, but the bill of rights certainly hasn't helped any 'illegal combatants'.

          You are a couple of years behind on the news, eh?

          the US throwing stones in it's own glasshouse

          Yes, the US has a "national" firewall, puts people in prison for any dissent and is all about being a communist country. :rolleyes:

          • "You are a couple of years behind on the news, eh?"

            Maybe I am, the last time I paid attention was when David Hicks was having his butt reamed by a "kangaroo court". How many of the Gitmo crowd have recieved a jury trial so far?
            • /me points at the AC response below.

              What country tries people captured during military operations anything like a normal criminal court? If this were Russia or China, you'd never hear from them again. The ones that'd return, would so with various crippling injuries or in body bags. Considering the US allowed any sort of coverage, exposing it's failures, is miles ahead of the conduct I've seen from most countries. I'm not saying it's your big friendly pal, Just that it's not exactly the worst thing out there

              • If you think I "hate america" you are mistaken, I don't "hate" any country, the idea is nonsense when you think about it. But what if I thought the US was twice as good as any other nation? - Does that mean I should stop critizing it (and others in the west) for hypocricy where I see fit? (this BTW is exactly what 'patrotic' Chinese are often accused of doing). Oh and IMHO Hicks' military appointed lawyer did a great job in difficult circumstances.

                I'm an Aussie, and my own government was complicit in the
          • Haha I get flamebait moderation for pointing out the US doesn't have a national firewall, the OP was out dated on his FUD, and not putting people in jail for talking bad about the government.

            All hail our new Chinese overlords! This is pretty strong evidence of the mindless hatred of the US on /. :)

      • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Sunday August 17, 2008 @04:09AM (#24632867) Journal

        I believe in the ideas outlined in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I believe that all people are created equal and should have equal rights and protection under law. I believe...

        I believe that you should vote in a government which shares some of these ideals enough to act on them and then perhaps those of us in the rest of the world might take you more seriously when you start to talk about morals.

        • by ddoz (1329149)

          If only one vote was all it took. Unfortunately, we're likely to elect another warmongering elitist that will keep up the steady pace to totalitarianism, stripping away the people's rights, catering to corporations who also take a collective shit on the people, and you can blame Americans for being ignorant, again.. for the 3rd(higher?) time, or more likely, being douchebags.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TapeCutter (624760) *
      Indeed, how would westeners react if Yahoo!, Google, etc, were bought by China via the stock market and we were then stuck with China dictating the "code of conduct"? Not that I support China's stance but it's attitude toward censorship and human rights is not that different to the west during the 50's & 60's.

      BTW: Don't panic, China would not be allowed to buy these companies, both the west and the east have laws against pure market forces and for very good reasons.
      • by ardle (523599)
        You mean that capitalism only allows you to rip off your own citizens, not citizens of a rival? There seems to be a flaw in that plan, then...
    • by Koiu Lpoi (632570)

      Middle Kingdom syndrome

      The term comes from the Chinese themselves - the characters they use for themselves (can't post, thank you slashdot's lack of unicode) read "The Middle Kingdom". More poetically, "The Nail of the World" or "The Center of the World." More modernly, just "Zhong".

  • Waterboarding has been okay'd!

  • Silver Lining (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdIII (1114411) * on Sunday August 17, 2008 @02:05AM (#24632363)

    Following the local laws is a requirement of doing business in any country, and conflicts between corporate ethics and the law of the land in which these corporations do business are inevitable

    This is certainly true. However, the silver lining here is that the law the Senate may want to push can provide a way for companies like Yahoo to not comply with a government like China. Yahoo can point the finger back at U.S law and claim that their hands are tied. China would then have to determine what is in it's best interests and whether or not to expel Yahoo.

    Furthermore, if a company really did have a code of ethics and morality that it openly proclaimed it was following, why it would compromise to make a buck in a country that did not share their values? You would think there would be limits. I am certain that sounds incredibly cynical, yet there is mountains of evidence in every corner of business that supports this observation.

    It is this reality that leads many to conclude there are no limits, no ethics, no principles in business. There is only the law, what influence a company can have on the laws that constrain it, what influence a company can have on laws that help it, and what a company can get away with in terms of net liability when violating the law.

    I was never surprised by what Yahoo did in China. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". Well in China, Yahoo has to operate according to Chinese laws and cultural values. If the U.S Senators are really that upset about it then pass a law and Yahoo will have no choice. It is a bit hypocritical though considering that there are many countries in the world abhor how corporations in the US get to treat their customers.

    In the end, I suspect this will mostly be hot air. As long as their are profits to be made in China, US companies will be there regardless of how they have to "bend" their values to operate.

    • I agree entirely, the law should be the boundary for companies to play within.

      As a side thought on Yahoo's handing over of information. What would have happened to the individual employees of Yahoo China if they had denied access? Surely there would be more repercussions than a possible expulsion in this I-hear-the-corners-are-corrupt country?

      • by EdIII (1114411) * on Sunday August 17, 2008 @02:29AM (#24632493)

        What would have happened to the individual employees of Yahoo China if they had denied access?

        That is a good darn question. Executives in the US face penalties for compliance, and executives in China face penalties for non-compliance. Damned if you do, Damned if you don't.

        The most intelligent thing to do in my opinion is to treat them as two separate entities. If the U.S has a serious problem with the way China acts and treats it's citizens or U.S citizens then it sounds like an embargo is required.

        • by cdrguru (88047)

          I seriously doubt the WTO would go along with an embargo of any sort.

          Then, with the way that people currently respect US law within the US, there would be all sorts of black market folks selling Chinese goods and US Customs would just continue passing the stuff as they do today. For an example, it is against US law to import unlicensed DVD players that the manufacturer is not paying license fees on. Since the fee is $5 per unit, how can anyone sell a licensed DVD player for $30 (retail)? Answer: they can

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Hal_Porter (817932)

      In the end, I suspect this will mostly be hot air. As long as their are profits to be made in China, US companies will be there regardless of how they have to "bend" their values to operate.

      Actually if the US embargoed China US companies would not do business. And a sort of 'embargo lite' like making it illegal for companies to shop dissidents and thus comply with Chinese law will hopefully make them do use Taiwan companies as a proxy. Which is a good thing - the money goes to a small democracy, rather than a large dictatorship which in the long run will be a potent competitor to the US.

      And I mean competitor in the sense of Japan in WWII, not Japan now. It's short sighted to give crypto fascis

    • No excuse (Score:1, Troll)

      by Roger W Moore (538166)

      Yahoo can point the finger back at U.S law and claim that their hands are tied.

      No they cannot. You can't excuse breaking the law in one country because you'll break the law in another. It is Yahoo who have to decide which penalty they wish to accept. This is not just true in China but in Canada and Europe where we have far more stringent privacy laws than the US and companies may well find themselves breaking our laws when the US government demands they hand over private data.

  • Goodbye western society, it was nice to have you around. Seriously, we're trying to force some corporation to have an ethical code of conduct while our own government officials take bribes, shoplift, and sleep around? I mean, really?

    Check out the sentiments we'll be facing at the feet of our enemes soon. We've got angry Russians tearing through one of our minion-states, like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dy1b34Ehdg [youtube.com]

    You know what he's saying? He's saying "we're living like bums, they're living lik
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      In fact you can say it already happened, with 9/11, etc.

      No, you can't. No matter how you slice it, there's a large difference between 9/11 and a true military assault like what happened at Pearl Harbor. 9/11, depending on how you look at it, was either the depraved act of a few individuals bent on making a political statement, or else something far more sinister cooked up by the government to scare people into accepting the loss of the rights. And read what I wrote before you call me a crackpot.

      • No matter what the details of the incident are, our (U.S.A.'s) response is what I was trying to call attention to. Our amazingly badly-engineered response has resulted in a HUGE chink in our armor, such that other nations need only mention Iraq and the discussion on American ethics and any sort of axis of evil is over.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by TapeCutter (624760) *
      Don't worry, I think the western "dogs of war" would be just as easy to arouse when they are attacked.

      You are correct that both sides are currently battling for the attention of the western media. However, the Geogians attacted first and regardless of wether the US had anything to do with the first attack, few people will now belive that Georgia was/is not a puppet. A perfect camera angle at the games with Bush screwing his face up to Putin's words [youtube.com] isn't going to convince the world Bush is THAT stupid. P
  • don't do business at all. And before you say "who decides what's ethical" I'd say my fellow countrymen get to decide what's ethical for those within our country as well as what's ethical for Australian corporations. I'd say Americans should have the same right. That way they can hold Yahoo to a higher standard then they would hold some random Chinese company.

  • since when has the fact that U.S. law != world law every stopped that collection of idiots in Congress from ever trying to pass any legislation that is designed to affect more then the U.S.?

    They're not doing it for the belief in human rights, they're doing it for the good press.

    • They're not doing it for good press, they're doing it for good profits. Whether that's share price, market share, or simply sales volume doesn't matter too much. Think about the times you've heard of US law being imposed on other countries via treaties or lobbying... to my mind, it's usually been about selling product into that country, and mostly mass-media products, or ensuring supply of product the US wants.
      • by Kierthos (225954)

        No, no... when a politician gets up in front of a bunch of cameras and insists that multi-national ISPs should respect human rights and so forth, he's not doing it because he gives a fuck about some Chinese blogger getting hauled off by this generation's version of good little Maoists.

        He wants to look good on human rights. That's it.

        It would actually be worse for these ISPs business if Congress somehow managed to get them to adhere to this, regardless of whatever the local law is.

    • U.S law != world law

      In any case, it's nothing a good, solid bombing campaign and some righteous propaganda can't fix.

  • by 1u3hr (530656) on Sunday August 17, 2008 @02:29AM (#24632483)
    However, the Industry Standard notes that there's a fundamental flaw with such efforts: US law is not world law.

    Bullshit. It's about "morality", "codes of conduct". Not "law". Obviously companies have to follow the laws of the land or suffer penalties. Similar laws exist to prevent American companies using bribery overseas regardless of the laws in the foreign country. If it's an American company doing business overseas, they have to work with two regimes. If they can't, too bad. Stay at home.

    Everything is not just about the bottom line. If a company's actions can send a person to jail, if the only calculation they make is "Is it good for business?", well, they're assholes and they can deal with the bad karma and hopefully a massive PR disaster.

    I hate these corporate apologists who say they have an "obligation to maximise profits regardless of morality". No, you don't. What you mean is you have a desire to get a bigger bonus. Obligations, even in business, go beyond that, if you're a human being.

  • Idealism vs Money (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Dutchmaan (442553)

    Here's your real test America!

    Will you uphold your ideals if it means losing money? What do you REALLY value?

    Actions speak louder than words.

  • by Anonymous Bullard (62082) on Sunday August 17, 2008 @03:33AM (#24632721) Homepage
    A few days ago I came across a story about one Taiwanese-born american's recent trip to Chinese-occupied Tibet [phayul.com] (using her Taiwanese passport, meaning no consular protection).

    "It was scary because they (at the American embassy in Chengdu) warned me if I was low profile now, I will be high-profile, and I will be followed once I enter Tibetan regions. They told me to watch out for guys who look too comfortable smoking a cigarette. They told me to not trust anyone. They advised me to memorize the angle of my computer and cell phone when I leave my hotel room, so I can tell if they've been moved when I return. They said to be especially careful with my camera. The tech specialist at the Embassy said that she strongly suspects that Chinese intelligence has some kind of deal with Google because gmail appears not to be safe in China. They said, 'It's safe to assume that everything you do is being watched.'"

    She later quotes a couple of totally weird "Gmail notifications" (written in broken english), purportedly coming from "The Gmail team".

    It'd be interesting to see the full email headers, but there seems to be increasing evidence that despite Google has publically resisted the Chinese Communist Party's demands of cooperation (unlike Microsoft and Yahoo who both collaborated) the CCP regime is indeed able to intercept Gmail traffic.

    Under CCP's rule, all personal encryption to which the CCP doesn't have keys has been declared illegal. This presumably includes the easily available HTTPS encryption used in browsers and which Google also uses for Gmail.

    Whether the CCP has struck a deal with Google (or someone inside Google), they can read HTTPS traffic or it is simply a case of CCP keyloggers in all internet cafes, the issue should be thoroughly studied and the public be warned accordingly, if necessary. Especially when in China, and in particular in Tibet, the most innocuous messages can easily result in imprisonment, serious bodily harm or even death.

    Some people will still be willing to take that risk in order get information out of China or Tibet, but all email users there should be prominently warned if there is any suspicion that the service may be compromised.

    • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday August 17, 2008 @05:43AM (#24633257)

      Of _course_ they can intercept Gmail traffic! Much of it is over HTTP, not HTTPS, and communicating among the mail servers it's SMTP. Unless you're encrypting end-to-end, expect your email to be trivially monitored. Even if it were encrypted, passwords are trivial to steal in most environments.

      Given that Google's servers are deployed worldwide in various data centers and portable data centers, it would be relatively inexpensive to hire an unappreciated Google employee to plant fiber optic taps in various of their data centers, intercepting the traffic there. And the Chinese have doubtless themselves pulled the stunt that AT&T did for the NSA, permitting backbone Internet taps on their core routers.

    • by freakxx (987620)

      The best way to lower down the risk seems to be to use a temporary gmail account and get all the mail forwarded to this account from your main gmail account. While replying, add the main gmail account as an alternate account in this temporary account.

      Besides, the gmail now offers https as an option to choose it as a default mode. Use it.

      And of course, after returning back, reset all the passwords u ever used in China.

  • China has moved from being communist to fascist in the sense that they allow capitalism by under one party rule. Basically, the merger of state and business. We Americans are always fussing about it because we have free speech, etc (at least for the most part), but I say if the Chinese citizens want what they are seeing, then they can have it. It will only be their loss in the end. Civilizations go through cycles. From lots of personal freedom to none, then destruction and rebirth. The seeds of destru
  • We know the US is perfect. Its citizens have no complaints about the government and how the country is run. If something is perfect then you should imitate it!
  • Let's not forget that Yahoo (or AT&T / Yahoo if AT&T happens to be your ISP) uses web-bugs, those invisible 1 pixel graphics, to stalk it's users. Of course they came up with their own cutsie name for them, "web beacons".

  • by toby (759) * on Sunday August 17, 2008 @09:27AM (#24634119) Homepage Journal

    For an illustrative example, google Blackwater illegal prosecution [google.ca] and you'll see that they get away with murder. Literally.

    Or for another example, google Chevron Chernobyl [google.ca].

    The key feature of "Globalisation" as we know it is US corporations (and military) being able to break local and international law at will. Apparently in the US this isn't considered a problem.

    • The key feature of "Globalisation" as we know it is US corporations (and military) being able to break local and international law at will. Apparently in the US this isn't considered a problem.

      Governments have no one else but themselves to blame when someone breaks laws in their country. If they can't even enforce their own laws, that doesn't make them much of a government does it?

  • If you want to do business in a country where the laws block you from operating within your ethical framework, whatever that is, you shouldn't do business there.

    Companies that exploit cheap labor in foreign markets are not ethically against doing that; if they were, they wouldn't do that.

  • Asking companies to develop policies about ethics in foreign dealings is an insult. Our government may well be composed of craven cowards who refuse to stand up for right unless it is convenient or profitable but asking private companies to take a stand is absurd.
    Color this: We have no business doing business with China or Russia who both flagrantly murder and violate the civil rights of innocents without cause.Allowing the Olympics to take place in China or sending Americans to com

  • "US law is not world law." Maybe we should fix this since we have the most powerful country in the world. Being the only superpower kind of sticks us with being the worlds policeman regardless of whether we want the job or not. I don't agree with stepping over their peoples views with ours but policing their governments views though will probably be inevitable. In a world where instabilities can lead to getting us all killed those instabilities and their causes(corruption, abuse, etc) can no longer be tole

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. -- Francis Bacon

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