On 4th September 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the BusinessInsider website titled 'Google is partnering with the Department of Defense to fight cybercrime' and dated to 20th May 2020. It reported that Google had signed a deal with the US Department of Defense to use its Cloud tools to combat cyber threats.
In a statement, Google said its Cloud tech would be used "to detect, protect against, and respond to cyber threats worldwide," as part of the contract with the DoD's Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).
It was also found that the company faced backlash from employees for its last partnership with the Pentagon called Project Maven. It would have used Google's AI and machine learning to analyse drone footage, but was abandoned in 2019 after thousands of Google employees signed a petition protesting the deal.
A subsequent article found in the Forbes magazine website dated December 2020 stated "Pichai said [in June 2018] Google would not develop artificial intelligence for 'weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.'"
It was considered likely that the company was still providing non-lethal services to the military, it therefore lost half a mark under Arms & Military Supply.


Google is partnering with the Department of Defense to fight cybercrime (20 May 2020)

On 4th September 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the Forbes magazine website titled 'Google Promised Not To Use Its AI In Weapons, So Why Is It Investing In Startups Straight Out Of "Star Wars"?' and dated to 22nd December 2020.

The article stated that, "Pichai [Google and Alphabet CEO] may have promised Google AI wouldn’t harm people, but he said nothing about Google’s parent company Alphabet. In late 2019, Pichai became CEO of Alphabet while still retaining his job as CEO of Google – and through investments by Google and its venture capital wing, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Alphabet is still very much in the business of war."

The article discussed an investement of GV in Orbital Insight,which makes artificial intelligence software that collects and analyses "satellite images, drone footage and aggregated smartphone location data from 800 million devices across the world"; and a Google investment in Planet, which "has 150 imaging satellites in orbit, claiming they make up the world’s largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites". Together, the two companies had won "at least $30.5 million in Defense Department contracts, alongside deals with space intelligence agencies, for projects that could be said to 'directly facilitate injury'”.

Alphabet Inc. therefore lost half a mark under Arms & Military Supply.


Google Promised Not To Use Its AI In Weapons, So Why Is It Investing In Startups Straight Out Of ‘St

On 29th September 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed Google's website for the company's supply chain management policy. Its 2020 Supply Responsibility Report was found, which linked to Google’s Supplier Code of Conduct and other information.

Supply chain policy (rudimentary)
A strong policy would include the following commitments: no use of forced labour, permission of freedom of association, payment of a living wage, the restriction of working hours to 48 hours plus 12 overtime (without exception), no use of a child labour (under 15 or 14 if ILO exempt), no discrimination by race, sex or for any other reason.

Google's supply chain policy included adequate clauses on child labour, forced labour, freedom of association and non-discrimination. However the clause on working hours was not considered adequate as it was qualified by "except in emergency or unusual situations." It also did not contain a clause guaranteeing workers' a living wage. Overall Google was considered to have a rudimentary supply chain policy.

Stakeholder engagement (poor)
Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for companies to demonstrate stakeholder engagement, such as through membership of the Ethical Trade Initiative, Fair Labour Association or Social Accountability International. Companies were also expected to engage with Trade Unions, NGOs and/or not-for-profit organisations which could systematically verify the company's supply chain audits, and for workers to have access to an anonymous complaints system, free of charge and in their own language.

No references could be found to the effect that Google was working with multi-stakeholder organisations or trade unions or NGOs to help verify its labour standards within its supply chain, or had any complaints procedure that workers would be aware of and able to use.

Auditing and reporting (rudimentary)
Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for companies to have an auditing and reporting system. Results of audits should be publicly reported and quantitatively analysed. The company should have a scheduled and transparent audit plan that applies to their whole supply chain, including some second tier suppliers. The company should also have a staged policy for non-compliance. The costs of the audit should be borne by the company.

Google stated that "We hold suppliers accountable to our Supplier Code of Conduct through a multi-step assessment process, which includes self-assessments, risk assessments, and independent third-party audits." Google provided a table which stated how much non-compliance had been found and the most common reasons for non-conformance. However there wasn't a schedule for audits or commitment to audit the whole supply chain. Overall Google was considered to have a rudimentary approach to auditing and reporting.

Difficult issues (rudimentary)
Ethical Consumer also deemed it necessary for companies to address other difficult issues in their supply chains. This would include ongoing training for agents, or rewards for suppliers, or preference for long term suppliers. It would also include acknowledgement of audit fraud and unannounced audits, and measures taken to address the issue of living wages, particularly among outworkers, and illegal freedom of association.

Google stated in its report "As of December 31, 2019, over 95% of the identified population of Google employees managing relationships with higher-risk suppliers had completed the online training." The online training was said to cover "anti-modern slavery education for workers in roles related to hardware supplier management". This was considered to be addressing a difficult issue.

Google did not appear to be addressing any other difficult issues such as illegal freedom of association found within supply chains. Overall Google was considered to have a rudimentary approach to difficult issues.

Overall Google received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for Supply Chain Management and lost half a mark in this category.


sustainability.google (4 September 2021)

In May 2021, Ethical Consumer searched the Internet for criticisms against Google and found several relating to discrimination of Palestinians. This are detailed below:
- Website ‘Investigate’ accuses Alphabet of discriminating against Palestinians (July 2019)
A search of The American Friends Service Committee’s Investigate website was made by Ethical Consumer in May 2021 and found that Alphabet Inc. was listed. The company’s profile stated “Google Maps, the company’s online map application, discriminates against Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank in several ways...Google Maps navigation results assume its users are Israeli citizens, who enjoy freedom of movement in the West Bank, and fail to consider the Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinians. Many roads in the occupied West Bank are either completely or partially prohibited for Palestinian use, and others are severely restricted. The consequences for Palestinians following Google’s navigation instructions and using these roads without a permit include arrest, car confiscation, and injury or death.”
The report went on to say, “Many Palestinian villages are missing from Google Maps, or appear only at the highest zoom level. In contrast, even the smallest Israeli settlements in the West Bank are displayed, and sometimes even labelled as located in Israel, even though these settlements are illegal under international law and are not part of Israel.”
Lastly it stated, “Youtube, Google’s online video platform, also discriminates against Palestinians. Youtube blocks Palestinian content on the grounds that it incites violence while allowing similar or more blatant content by Jewish Israelis. In 2018 alone, Youtube deleted more than 45 Palestinian accounts and channels, including two news outlets.”
- Research alleges violations of Palestinian’s online rights by big technology companies (December 2020)
An article was found on the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre website titled ‘Palestine: Research alleges violations of online rights by international technology companies’ and dated 16th December 2020. It detailed 7amleh’s (The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media) research into “the effects of governmental and business policies and practices on Palestinian digital rights.” The article signposts to two reports, ‘Are YouTube’s Policies Biased Against Palestinians?’ and ‘Systematic Efforts to Silence Palestinian Content On Social Media’. Google (and its subsidiary YouTube) were named in these reports and had not responded to these allegations.
- Employees call for Google to show more support to Palestinians (May 2021)
An article titled ‘Jewish Google employees call for company to support Palestinians amid Israel’s bombing of Gaza’ and dated 19th May 2021 was found (a number of other news articles were also found which reported on the same topic). It stated that following the recent conflict between Israel and Palestine, a group of Jewish Google employees had “written to the company asking it to do more to support Palestinians”. The group was quoted as requesting “Google leadership to make a company-wide statement recognising the violence in Palestine and Israel, which must include direct recognition of the harm done to Palestinians by Israeli military and gang violence”. Google had not formally responded to the group’s letter.
- Criticised over “blurry” Google Maps images of Gaza (May 2021)
Several news articles were found reporting on Google’s unwillingness to update its “blurry” Google Maps images of the OPTs. Google stated that it had “no plans” to improve the image quality, the company stated that it considered "opportunities to refresh our satellite imagery as higher resolution imagery becomes available", but that it had "no plans to share at this time". A number of the articles highlighted that satellite images of the infamously secretive North Korean state are far superior to those in the OPTs.
- Criticised for not labelling Palestine on Google Maps (May 2021)
Google had received renewed criticism during May 2021 surrounding its decision not to label Palestine on its Google Map service. Several articles were found that covered this topic. One of which, published by USA Today, was titled ‘Fact check: Google does not have a Palestine label on its maps’ and dated 21st May 2021. It stated that “When searching for "Palestine" on Google Maps, the map zooms in on the Israel-Palestine region, and both the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories are labelled and separated by dotted lines. But there is no label for Palestine. In an email statement, Google said it doesn't label the borders because there isn't international consensus on where the Palestinian borders are located.”
The company was originally accused of “deleting Palestine” in August 2016 after a public petition highlighted the issue. However, an article published by the Guardian included this statement from Google, “There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps, however we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip’. We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area.”
- Google subsidiary Waze accused of discrimination against Palestinians (October 2016)
A search result stated that Google acquired Israeli company Waze in 2013. Waze’s offices are based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Further research into Waze’s activities in relation to Palestine uncovered a Vice news article titled ‘Waze Lets Israelis Avoid Palestinian Areas, but Not the Other Way Around’ and dated October 2016. The article stated that Waze was automatically set to “avoid dangerous driving areas and the A, B territories [Palestinian areas]”. It said that Palestinians who use Waze “say it's a double standard that the company offers a special function for Jewish Israelis to avoid Palestinian areas in the West Bank, but doesn't offer a similar setting for Palestinians who wish to avoid Jewish ones.”
The article notes, however, that it is dangerous sometimes for Israelis to be in Palestinian territories, as well as being illegal for several Palestinian cities in the West Bank, like Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus. The article stated that “some Palestinians are concerned that Waze's use of the phrase "dangerous areas" is subjective and stigmatizes their communities. On a recent drive through the West Bank it was clear that Waze was using the term "dangerous" to refer primarily to Arab cities in the West Bank and Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.”
The company lost a whole mark under the Human Rights category in light of these criticisms.


Investigate (25 May 2021)

The Dirty List, produced by Burma Campaign UK in order to highlight the role of international companies in assisting the military to continue to commit human rights violations, was resumed in December 2018. The list also highlighted the role of international companies that operated in the country in a way that contributed to human rights violations and environmental destruction.
Google hosts applications created by the Burmese military. This includes one for Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of the Burmese military, whom United Nations investigators have said should be prosecuted for genocide. It also hosts applications for the Myawady military newspaper, the Ministry of Defence, and military-owned companies.
Google was still on the list when it was viewed in May 2021.
The company lost a whole mark under Human Rights as a result.


The Dirty List (December 2018)

In May 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed Google's website and found it that developed facial recognition technology.

The technology was considered to be insufficiently regulated and to pose a major threat to civil liberties when used for surveillance purposes.

On the use of facial recognition for surveillance, UK campaign group Big Brother Watch stated: “Live facial recognition in public spaces is a mass surveillance method and a huge expansion of the surveillance state. It inverts the vital democratic principle of suspicion preceding surveillance, treating populations like suspects.”

The company lost half a mark under the Human Rights category.


google.com (25 May 2021)

On 30th September 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the BBC website titled 'Google fired employees for union activity, says US agency' and dated to 3rd December 2020. It stated that "Google unlawfully fired employees for attempting to organise a union, a US federal agency has said. A complaint filed by the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleged that Google unlawfully monitored and questioned its employees about their union activity." It went on to say that "The NLRB complaint dealt with employees who were fired over a year ago, in November 2019. Known as the 'Thanksgiving Four', they were officially fired for breaking security and safety rules. But the workers alleged they were fired for "speaking out" about Google's policies."

In response, Google said it had "always worked to support a culture of internal discussion. Actions undertaken by the employees at issue were a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility,"

The NLRB said the rules in question were only applied to those employees who were engaged in worker organisation.

On 4th January 2021, the Guardian reported in an article titled 'More than 200 US Google employees form a workers’ union' that employees had formed the Alphabet Workers Union, with the aim "to ensure employees work at a fair wage, without fear of abuse, retaliation or discrimination". The union would not be seeking ratification through the National Labor Relations Board, as is typical, and instead would form a “minority union”, which meant it would be able to include "temporary workers, vendors, and other contractors [which] make up an enormous 'shadow' workforce at Google, outnumbering direct Google employees by around 135,000 to 115,000". It also meant the union would not have legally protected rights to action like collective bargaining.

On 12th September 2021, the New York Times reported in an article titled 'Google Settles With U.S. Over Workers’ Complaints It Stifled Dissent' that the company had "reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board over complaints from multiple employees who say the company has stymied dissent, including one who has said he was fired for being an outspoken conservative".

Google lost half a mark under Workers' Rights as a result.


Google fired employees for union activity, says US agency (3 December 2020)

On 6th September 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the Guardian website titled "Google fires employee who protested company's work with US border patrol" and dated 26th November 2019. It stated:

"On Friday, about 200 employees rallied outside Google’s office in San Francisco to demand that two suspended worker activists be reinstated. By Monday, at least one of the suspended workers said she had been fired, with reports that three other Google staffers had also been let go. Rebecca Rivers, a software engineer at Google who had been involved with internal protests against Google’s work with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), announced her firing on Twitter on Monday afternoon. Three other Google staffers were also fired on Monday, according to an internal company memo obtained by Bloomberg."

As a result Google lost half a mark in the Workers Rights category.


Google fires employee who protested company's work with US border patrol (22 November 2019)

In April 2017, The Guardian online reported that Google had been accused of possible employment violations which had emerged as result of a lawsuit to compel company, a federal contractor, to provide compensation data. In the article called "Google accused of 'extreme' gender pay discrimination by US labor department" it said the US Department of Labor (DoL) had said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”.
Agency officials said "As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women."
Janet Herold, regional solicitor for the DoL, said: “The investigation is not complete, but at this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters. The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”
Google strongly denied the accusations of inequities, claiming it did not have a gender pay gap.
The allegations emerged at a hearing in federal court as part of a lawsuit the DoL filed against Google in January 2017, seeking to compel the company to provide salary data and documents to the government.
The Guardian reported "Google is a federal contractor, which means it is required to allow the DoL to inspect and copy records and information about its its compliance with equal opportunity laws. Last year, the department’s office of federal contract compliance programs requested job and salary history for Google employees, along with names and contact information, as part of the compliance review. Google, however, repeatedly refused to hand over the data, which was a violation of its contractual obligations with the federal government, according to the DoL’s lawsuit. After the suit was originally filed, a company spokesperson claimed that Google had provided “hundreds of thousands of records” to the government and that the requests outlined in the complaint were “overbroad”, revealed confidential information, or violated employees’ privacy."
Lisa Barnett Sween, one of Google’s attorneys, testified in opening remarks that the DoL’s request constituted a “fishing expedition that has absolutely no relevance to the compliance review”. She said the request was an unconstitutional violation of the company’s fourth amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches.
Google lost half a mark under Workers' Rights as a result.


Google accused of 'extreme' gender pay discrimination by US labor department (7 April 2017)