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Alphabet is under pressure from protesters at its annual meeting

Silicon Valley is targeted by US over antitrust
Google headquarters on Jan. 24, 2016, in Mountain View, Calif.
(Kris Tripplaar / TNS)

Google workers, shareholders and activists used the annual meeting of parent Alphabet Inc. to protest a range of issues, including contractor rights and the tech giant’s business in China.

Shareholders filed proposals asking Alphabet management to scrap noncompete agreements, claw back compensation from executives who were found to have harassed employees and put an employee representative on its board.

Several activist groups, sometimes in conjunction with Google employees, were planning protests outside the meeting and at company offices around the world. Topics include diversity, ethics around product launches, housing affordability and working conditions for temporary and contract staff.

Tibetan, Uighur and Chinese rights activists called on Google management to clearly confirm the company will not reestablish business relations with China, citing what they said is the government’s mass cyber surveillance and human rights abuses.

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This is the latest flare-up in a roughly two-year effort by some Google employees and outside activists to push the company to be more accountable to workers, stockholders and the communities where it operates.

Google has a famously open work culture, where employees of all levels are encouraged to speak their mind and suggest changes to company policy. That’s created some headaches for the tech giant. Google shelved a plan to build a censored search engine for China after news of the project leaked and employees rebelled against it. The company also stepped back from one military contract and stopped forcing employees to sign away their right to bring claims against it in court.

Google’s critics only have so much power, though. Shareholder proposals like the ones advanced at the annual meeting are almost always rejected because Google founders control the majority of the votes through special shares.

De Vynck writes for Bloomberg.

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