Yahoo! takes a dive

It’s a rare example indeed when a Western multinational is chastised in public for putting profit before principle:

They sat just two feet apart, the mother of a journalist confined to a Chinese prison and the wealthy head of the giant U.S. company that helped put him behind bars.

But before Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Jerry Yang took his seat to testify on Capitol Hill Tuesday, he bowed deeply before the woman.

The hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Yahoo’s conduct in China was a rare public shaming of the Internet leader, whose actions led to the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao.

Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame) and other lawmakers pilloried Yang and Michael Callahan, Yahoo’s executive vice president and general counsel, for providing Chinese officials with Shi’s identity from his e-mail address in 2004, then misleading lawmakers last year about what it knew about the case.

“While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,” Lantos said, scolding Yahoo executives.

More…  analysis here and here.

Frankly, the role of companies like Yahoo and internet security firms in repressive regimes is a growing human rights issue (and something I’m writing about in my forthcoming book.) Companies should certainly be held to account for working with nations or institutions that knowingly oppress, torture or harm their citizens.

“Our” companies should not be able to plead ignorance.