Commentary: National Action Plans should address potential human rights impacts of tech companies

Author: Sebastian Smart, Global Partners Digital, Published on: 22 April 2019

"Can national action plans make tech companies right-respecting?", 3 Sep 2018

...[T]ech companies are increasingly the arbiters of a range of human rights exercised on the internet, including freedom of expression... [I]n the absence of oversight, they don’t always get it right... [T]he UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) and the GNI principles help us understand the distinct and specific role that businesses play in respecting human rights... But they are not mandatory and... don't provide clear recommendations to states consistent with human rights standards... [One solution] to this lack of "teeth" is... National Action Plans (NAPs)... Proponents of NAPs argue that they can deliver more substantive change than other policy processes... [But] NAPs have been criticised for offering nothing but vague aspirations, notably in instances where they have been used to regulate the tech sector [and for a] lack of practical guidance on implementation... [A] successful NAP is likely to:  

  • Recognise the duty of states to protect human rights, the duty of companies to respect human rights, and victims’ access to remedy;
  • Be context-specific, and able to evolve... and
  • Be developed in an open, inclusive, and transparent fashion...

...There is a clear need for serious, sustained thought and work around systematising minimum regulatory standards for the tech sector within NAPs... In doing so, we need to consider holistically all the potential human rights impacts of tech companies, from freedom of expression to the potential impact of the sector on economic, social and cultural rights.

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