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ICT and Big Data
Tech Firms Face Increasing Expectations to Respect Human Rights

The Business & Human Rights Resource Center has released a 10-page briefing calling on information and communications technology (ICT) companies around the world to maximize their positive contribution to human rights, and to avoid abuses.Since 2005, Business & Human Rights Resource Center has invited companies to respond publicly to human rights concerns raised by civil society. Over 220 of these approaches have been to ICT firms, which have a response rate of 70 percent. In 2005-2006, only four percent of the companies invited to respond to concerns were from the ICT sector — by 2012-2013, this figure increased to 13 percent.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Center has released a 10-page briefing calling on information and communications technology (ICT) companies around the world to maximize their positive contribution to human rights, and to avoid abuses.

Since 2005, Business & Human Rights Resource Center has invited companies to respond publicly to human rights concerns raised by civil society. Over 220 of these approaches have been to ICT firms, which have a response rate of 70 percent. In 2005-2006, only four percent of the companies invited to respond to concerns were from the ICT sector — by 2012-2013, this figure increased to 13 percent.

Over three-quarters of the Resource Centre’s approaches to ICT companies for responses have related to concerns in four countries/regions:

  • China (32 percent of the invitations to respond, many in relation to working conditions in ICT firms’ supply chains);
  • Middle East & North Africa (23 percent, largely relating to surveillance, censorship and Internet shut-downs);
  • South Asia (12 percent, regarding working conditions and censorship issues);
  • USA (10 percent, which includes lobbying by US business associations against the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act on the sourcing of conflict minerals — some firms distanced themselves from the business associations on this).

“Technology is a powerful tool for human rights,” Business & Human Rights Resource Center said in a statement. “With the ever-increasing scrutiny of ICT companies’ conduct — much of this enabled by the Internet itself — and the growing availability of practical guidance on how to do the right thing, there is little excuse for inaction.”

Several ICT companies have followed a learning curve towards a leadership stance. For example, Yahoo! which, following criticism for handing user details of the journalist Shi Tao to the Chinese authorities that led to his arrest, later became a founding member (along with Google and Microsoft) of the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative to address privacy and freedom of expression.

The briefing illustrates the human rights dimensions of ICT in six areas:

  • Combating censorship
  • Curbing surveillance and repression
  • Protecting privacy
  • Broadening access
  • Engaging the supply chain
  • Respecting children’s rights

It concludes with recommendations to companies and also to governments — given that action by both is needed for change.

Last December, the UN Global Compact (UNGC) released a new guide aimed at helping businesses understand the rights of indigenous peoples, and recommends practical actions to respect and support these rights. The guide grew out of dialogue among a group of Global Compact LEAD companies and is the product of an 18-month collaborative process.

In January, the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI), a leading industry initiative on conflict minerals, called on more companies to join over 120 from seven different industries to already become conflict-free. The CFSI provides vital sourcing information that enables companies to make informed choices about minerals they use in their products — including helping companies meet their upcoming reporting deadline related to U.S. conflict minerals regulations.

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