Businesses need to “step up and lead” in areas where the government is struggling to make progress, Apple CEO Tim Cook told Box CEO Aaron Levie during a fireside chat at Box’s BoxWorks enterprise software conference in San Francisco Tuesday.
“I think business has a very important responsibility to society and that responsibility has grown markedly in the last couple of decades or so as government has found it more difficult to go forward,” he said.
He spoke about the importance of human rights, public education and climate change, framing Apple as a leader among businesses for taking stances on those issues.
He said equality and “a basic level of human rights and dignity” is free.
“Our customers care about it and so this is something that we’re going to continue to evangelize,” he said, adding that he thought insufficient progress had been made with human rights over time.
While Cook did not go into specifics on what human rights issues most concerned him, he went on to say he was committed to promoting access to higher-quality public education and powering Apple’s supply chain with renewable energy.
Apple already powers a large part of its operations, including its manufacturing supply chain, with renewable energy sources including solar, wind, biogas, fuel cells, geothermal and hydropower. The company has pledged to create enough renewable energy to power the entirety of its global operations and manufacturing supply chain.
As CEO, Cook has gained a reputation for taking stances on political and human rights issues, especially gay rights. In March, the executive penned an op-ed in the Washington Post opposing a law in Indiana that would have allowed businesses to refuse to serve gay customers on grounds of religious beliefs.
Apple as a company has over the years come under fire from human rights and labor activists for the work conditions in Chinese factories producing Apple products. The company has reportedly made efforts to combat “bonded servitude” practices in which employees have found themselves virtually enslaved to work at Apple factories to pay off debts to recruiters.
“I think we have a responsibility as businesses to step up and lead, and even more so when there’s a void with the government,” Cook said Tuesday.