Commentary: Binding treaty discussions should include technology & human rights perspective

Author: Sebastian Smart, Global Partners Digital, Published on: 15 April 2019

"The case for and against a binding treaty on business and human rights", 2 April 2019

Hardly a week passes without a new revelation of adverse impacts on human rights by tech companies... [and] pathways to recourse aren't always clear... the UNGPs... [do not require states to] "regulate the extraterritorial activities of businesses domiciled in their territory and/or jurisdiction". This is a crucial gap – and a problem for human rights defenders... [C]ivil society organisations working on digital policy have (with a few exceptions) been notably absent from discussions around the [binding] treaty... This reflects a broader lack of attention to the tech sector (particularly online platforms) within business and human rights discussions... From our perspective at [Global Partners Digital], we believe that:

  1. Any binding treaty should therefore strengthen the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles...
  2. Any binding treaty that we would support would set clear participatory mechanisms for all stakeholders, including victims...
  3. A binding treaty should include remedy mechanisms for victims.

Given the role that tech companies play in the exercise of human rights, particularly privacy and free expression, it's therefore crucial that civil society engage with the treaty... While some organisations working in the digital environment have discussed and participated in the process, there's room for more organisations in our field to take part in these debates, especially those which have practical knowledge of the tech sector.

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