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Investment firm dumps Cisco stock over human rights issues

Boston Common Asset Management sells 167K shares after Cisco shuns requests for further transparency on Chinese operations

An investment group sold most of its shares in Cisco due to the company's human rights record in China. According to this story in Reuters and another in Worldwide Faith News, Boston Common Asset Management LLC sold most of its 167,000 shares in Cisco because the firm alleged Cisco was not doing enough to ensure its equipment wasn't being sold or used for, and business practices avoided, suppression of human rights.

According to the announcement from Boston Common:

"Boston Common's decision to divest comes after years of campaigning Cisco for greater transparency and accountability on key human rights and business development concerns," stated Dawn Wolfe, associate director of environmental, social, and governance research at Boston Common Asset Management. "Freedom of expression, privacy, and personal security are all critical elements in maximizing network traffic. Politically and socially repressive policies related to speech and privacy has a chilling effect on users and violates universally recognized human rights. When pressed for details on how Cisco addresses these risks, they come up short."

Cisco's "deceptive"announcement of vote results on proxy items at the 2010 annual shareholder meeting has also "raised further alarm" about the company's commitment to transparency, Boston Common states. Cisco did not answer a repeated request for engagement with shareholders at that meeting; and board member and Stanford President John Hennessy did not respond to a written request on Sept. 30, 2010, to assist in establishing dialogue between Cisco and shareholders on human rights, Boston Common charges. 

This comment from Nevin Dulabaum, president of Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust, in the Boston Common release must have stung:

"For all its talk about the 'human network' and adherence to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Cisco has not demonstrated in any concrete way that it fully recognizes its potential impact on human rights around the world."

At the November meeting, Boston Common sponsored a resolution for Cisco to look at steps it could take to reduce the likelihood its business practices might lead to human rights violations, such as freedom of expression and privacy, Reuters reported. Cisco opposed the proposal saying it has already taken similar steps, such as publishing a social responsibility report, the Reuters report states.

And two-thirds of votes cast on the question sided with Cisco, Reuters reports.

In a statement to Reuters, Cisco said:

"We continually evaluate and address human rights issues within our business operations and in communities where we operate. We have various policies, practices and procedures in place relating to human rights around the word, and believe our business practices and our standards-based technology architecture support the benefits of Internet access to information on a global basis."

Cisco, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have all come under the human rights microscope before.

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