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1 Nov 2021


B-Tech Community of Practice hosts dialogue between UN Special Rapporteurs & tech companies

On 12th May, the UN Human B-Tech project hosted a dialogue between the COP participants and several mandate holders from the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council for a conversation with representatives of some of the most prominent tech companies. The dialogue offered an opportunity to: a) Provide an opportunity for companies to learn about the work of mandate holders; b) Provide an opportunity for mandate holders to ask questions to technology companies, both substantive and process oriented; and c) Identify opportunities for future engagement.

The following companies from the B-Tech company Community of Practice (COP) participated in the dialogue: Apple, Cisco, Cloudflare, Ericsson, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Microsoft, Salesforce, Twitter, Verizon, and Vodafone.

Dialogue Summary

There are two types of Special Procedures mandates: the thematic mandates, such as those who participated in the session, and the country-specific mandates, which focus on the human rights situations in countries like Iran, Myanmar, and Syria. Increasingly, many Special Rapporteurs (SR) have embarked upon researching, analyzing and reporting on the impact of technologies on their thematic mandates…

Enhancing engagement and communication between tech companies and mandate holders

Participants all recognized that there is value in finding ways for those leading human rights work at tech companies to be a resource to Special Rapporteurs, and vice versa. While some Special Rapporteurs have a high level of understanding of how best to engage the private sector for research and reporting to the Human Rights Council, most require assistance in finding a way to build further ongoing two-way exchanges throughout the course of their mandate. Equally, many companies including those in the technology sector lack familiarity with the ways of working with the UN System, including with Special Rapporteurs. As such, finding ways to increase communication would be a valuable foundation for then addressing human rights concerns.

The role of Special Rapporteurs in spotlighting the importance of a company’s human rights commitments and work

A few of the COP participants mentioned communications from Special Rapporteurs that highlight the importance of their work on a global level, when directed to senior management, would help elevate attention to human rights within their companies. Concerns expressed through official letters to social media platforms from the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, for example, helped the corporate human rights leads and their colleagues understand the severity of the black market commerce on their platforms and through their app stores…

Practical ways to increase company responsiveness to Special Rapporteurs requests

Formal communications or other requests occasionally take an extended period of time to reach the appropriate issue owners within a company. Informal communications among the parties that preview or accompany the official letters will improve the quality of subsequent responses, and thereby of the impacts of the queries and reports as well…

Looking Ahead

...As B-Tech advances its own efforts, we continue to see ways in which we can bring Special Rapporteurs into additional sessions and conversations, in particular exploring how by adhering to the UNGPs, tech companies and Special Procedures share a common values-based framework.