Tim Cook says businesses need to step up where governments don't

Apple CEO thinks businesses should work for social good

Since taking over from Steve Jobs as CEO, one of the things Tim Cook has brought to Apple is a greater push to address social problems. On Tuesday at the Boxworks conference in San Francisco, Cook said he wants other companies to do the same.

"I think business has a very important responsibility to society," he said. "And that responsibility has grown markedly in the last couple of decades or so, as government has found it more difficult to move forward or get as much done that would please the people."

Apple has taken a few important steps along that road. Cook said the company's U.S. operations are running entirely on renewable energy, and Apple is now focused on getting its supply chain to the same point -- though that could be a challenge given the scale of its factory operations in China. 

Cook has also been an advocate for providing equal rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially after coming out as gay almost a year ago. Prior to that, in a newspaper editorial, he called for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have prohibited employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Pushing policies that promote equality doesn't cost anything for governments that do it, he said.

"We're focused on equality. And equality is one of those unusual things," Cook said. "Equality is free. There's no cost to it, and so it's not -- this week there's a big budget crisis again and everybody's yelling at each other about money -- but to give people a basic level of human rights and dignity is free. And yet, over 200 years after we said 'all men are created equal,' it's still not the case today." 

While Apple has vigorously fought other companies for copying its products, its an area where Cook would be happy to be mimicked.

Apple isn't the only company in the tech sector that has taken an outspoken stance on social issues. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been an advocate for philanthropy in his company's home city of San Francisco as part of that firm's outreach efforts.

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