Commentary: A "human rights by design" approach can help address potential human rights risks posed by new technologies

Author: Dunstan Allison-Hope, BSR, Published on: 17 February 2017

"Human rights by design," 17 February 2017

When considering how business can fulfill its responsibility to respect human rights, I’m increasingly struck by two very stark contrasts: between stability and upheaval and between risk and opportunity... On the one hand, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to harness massive advances in technology [such as artificial intelligence, big data analytics, blockchain]... for the public good... On the other hand, we risk unleashing into the world new technologies, capabilities, and business models that might cause significant harm to the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. Risks, such as algorithms that discriminate against vulnerable populations or connected devices that threaten privacy, are increasingly well known, but new and unknown scenarios are almost certain to emerge... Will the speed, complexity, and extensive reach of these disruptive technologies transform the human rights approaches that companies need to deploy, and are our current tools up to the job? 

... A “human rights by design” approach would depend on the capability of three professional communities—business and human rights teams, research and design teams, and sales and marketing teams—to fully integrate human rights considerations into the development of products, services, and technologies. It would need to ensure respect for human rights while at the same time supporting business needs, such as rapid product development and release cycles.

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