Apple CEO Tim Cook has delivered an emotional speech on the importance of equal rights.

Cook made the speech at the United Nations, while accepting a lifetime achievement award from Auburn University.

In the address he recalled seeing a cross burning when he was still a child growing up in rural Alabama,

"This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever," Cook said. "For me the cross burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred, and a fear of anyone different than the majority. I could never understand it."

Cook recently wrote a letter to the US Congress asking them to pass laws providing equal rights to straight and gay employees.

"Embracing people's individuality is a matter of basic human dignity and civil rights. It also turns out to be great for the creativity that drives our business," Cook wrote.

"We've found that when people feel valued for who they are, they have the comfort and confidence to do the best work of their lives."

Take a look at the speech, below.