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Artikel

9 Sep 2021

Autor:
Paloma Muñoz Quick, BSR

Reimagining investment by advancing human rights in venture capital

... By providing critical funding for technology start-ups, VC firms play a crucial gatekeeper role, deciding which companies make it onto the market, and ultimately, which technologies shape our lives. This has far-reaching consequences for human rights. While digital technologies present opportunities for economic growth, environmental protection, and the realization of human rights, such innovation can be associated with widespread infringements on privacy and free expression, enable the proliferation of hate speech fueling offline violence, and deepen inequalities, including through "algorithmic discrimination"—affecting people in the job market, accessing loans and public services, and in the criminal justice system.

Despite these societal harms, a July 2021 report released by Amnesty International found that “the vast majority of the world’s most influential venture capitalist firms operate with little to no consideration of the human rights impact of their decisions.” ...

These findings run contrary to the global expectation that businesses of all sectors and sizes, including VC firms, take the necessary steps to ensure that their business activities and value chains respect internationally recognized human rights...

Managing human rights risks is not only good for people—it is also good for business. Public equity investors have already recognized the relationship between human rights risks, including digital and labor rights, and the material costs on return (e.g., SASB standards, Investor Statement on Corporate Accountability for Digital Rights, and digital rights-related resolutions in 2019). A 2019 Harvard study on VC found a link between start-up technology companies that fail and poor performance in addressing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks. IPO valuations have also been threatened due to business models that undermine human rights. Firms may even be exposed to legal risks connected to their investments in companies that develop high-risk technologies, while reputational risks are increasing due to the growing focus of NGO advocacy on private capital and human rights.

Tech companies themselves are also realizing this... VC firms can meet their human rights responsibilities, help shape a world where technology contributes to social progress, and increase their financial returns by deploying approaches based on the following three principles:

  • Adopt a policy commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights...
  • Conduct human rights due diligence...
  • Provide space and resources for entrepreneurs to do their due diligence...

By supporting company founders in their mission to grow their businesses responsibly, VCs can play a transformative role in shaping the behavior and culture of emerging companies and the associated outcomes for society. The UNGPs provide a roadmap for VC firms to reimagine the way they conduct investment, helping to ensure that addressing risks to people is a fundamental part of their core business.

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