Microsoft thinks it's open enough about its collaboration with the US military, thank you very much. That's the takeaway from the company's recent proxy statement to investors ahead of its annual shareholder meeting in December, in which Microsoft's board of directors came out against two shareholder motions that seek to commission reports into the company's dealings with the US Department of Defense.
Spotted by Eurogamer, the fourth shareholder proposal addressed in the statement would—if passed—commission a report to assess whether Microsoft's defence dealings "contribute to violations of privacy, civil and human rights," or otherwise conflict "with the policies and principles set forth in Microsoft’s CSR Report"—that's a corporate social responsibility report: publications the company puts out detailing its goals and commitments surrounding things like privacy and human rights.
The fifth proposal, meanwhile, would require a report investigating potential "reputational and financial risks to the company for being identified as a company involved in the development of weapons used by the military".
But Microsoft's board says not to worry: "Microsoft’s Senior Leadership Team deliberated and made a principled decision" that the company wouldn't "withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy". The statement goes on to say that Microsoft has "communicated that position with employees and in external communications like blog posts. As a result, we do not believe the requested third-party analyses would advance the interests of Microsoft, its shareholders, or other stakeholders".
Microsoft's HoloLens deal with the US Army is worth $22 billion all by itself, and the company finally began shipping headsets to the military in the middle of last September. The deal went ahead despite Microsoft employee protests against "helping one country's government 'increase lethality' using tools we build".
The board obliquely addresses those protests in the proxy statement, noting that it has "an approach that ensures that people who have such concerns can raise them," and that the company will work with those employees "to the extent feasible to address these concerns". Unfortunately for those employees who were calling for Microsoft to "cease developing any and all weapons technologies," it looks like that option doesn't fall under the "feasible" umbrella.
The proxy statement isn't the end of the story: it only amounts to a set of recommendations from the board of directors to shareholders, who could still choose to vote through the relevant proposals. It certainly seems unlikely, given how lucrative the contracts are and how firmly opposed Microsoft's board is, but we'll learn more once the company holds its annual shareholder meeting on December 13.