Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Vodafone have announced an agreement with human rights groups, internet freedom activists and others to establish a set of principles covering how they deal with censorship and other restrictions that could harm human rights in China and elsewhere.

The move comes in the wake of public criticism of big US online companies last year over their activities in China. It echoes other voluntary “multi-stakeholder” initiatives that have emerged in recent years in response to public protest, covering issues such as the use of local security forces by oil and mining companies, and conditions in the clothing and footwear supply chains.

An official at one of the human rights groups involved said that by adopting a common front and making issues such as censorship a subject of their broader negotiations with foreign governments, the companies might succeed in rolling back some censorship of their web search engines.

Get the full story at the Financial Times