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EU chief criticises net firms over China actions

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A senior European Union official has taken hi-tech firms to task for helping China suppress dissent. In an internet posting about corporate responsibility, EC vice president Margot Wallström criticised net giants such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! for being too willing to bend ethical guidelines where potential profits in new markets are at stake.

Wallström criticised Microsoft for blocking Chinese blog entries that use words such as "democracy", "freedom" and "human rights". She censured Google for blocking access to sites that the Chinese government finds objectionable. But she saved her sharpest criticism for Yahoo! for handing over the name of a journalist who had sent an email criticising the Chinese government. Based on this information, Shi Tao received a ten-year prison sentence in September over allegations that he had divulged state secrets, a decision roundly condemned by human rights organisations such as Reporters Without Borders at the time.

"Words like ethics and corporate social responsibility seems to be deleted from their corporate code of conducts – or they have flexible ethical standards depending on where they operate," Wallström said, adding that she intended to campaign on the issue in the hopes of encouraging hi-tech firms to adopt a consistent moral stance.

"I hope that these companies one day will understand that to endorse democracy and corporate responsibility is a prerequisite for 'smart' growth. From now on, this issue is also on my political agenda," she added.

Wallström rejected arguments from firms that they have to operate according to the laws and customs of overseas countries in which they trade. However respondents to her posting claimed that EU countries often sold weapons to China so its political representatives were in no position to take the moral high ground. Since 1989, the EU has had an embargo on arms sales to China.®

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