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Report

1 Nov 2021

Author:
OHCHR B-Tech

B-Tech Community of Practice reflections on strategic aspects of business respect for human rights: current practice

Introduction

In April and May 2021, the B-Tech company Community of Practice (COP) met for three two-hour sessions focused on the topic of The Strategic Aspects of Business Respect for Human Rights. This note offers B-Tech Project’s reflections from the first two sessions which covered tech company progress and practices, as well as shared challenges...

A. Why This Topic?

The increasing public focus on potential harms associated with the design, commercialization and use of new digital technologies, plus the ways in which not addressing human rights risks is becoming more and more financially material to tech firms is leading to increased scrutiny about whether tech executives are establishing business cultures and norms of respect for human rights…

B. Headline Reflections

1.Being methodical in anticipating and prioritizing human rights risks: Technology companies involved in the COP all have a clear perspective about their priority issues. The practitioners in the COP sessions are proactively seeking to understand and learn about the human rights risks connected to the use of their companies’ products and services. As mentioned in an earlier B-Tech COP note, there are also a growing number of product/service or technology-specific assessments taking place – for example, on Artificial Intelligence, 5G, and new facial recognition tools...

2.Significant business decisions meriting human rights analysis: As part of the COP discussions, participants were invited to identify “significant business decisions” made in the technology industry that require some level of human rights risk assessment and mitigation. For the purposes of the discussion, the working definition of “significant business decisions” was “decisions, almost always taken by the most senior executives, about a company’s strategic goals or that are highly relevant to the achievement of those goals”...

3.The role of top leadership in human rights risk management: The UNGPs specify that a company’s human rights policy commitment should be “approved at the most senior level of a business enterprise” and “should be embedded from the top of the business enterprise through all of its business functions”. This implies that senior leaders (including executives and the Board, or equivalent) have a role to play in ensuring the company operates consistently with its responsibility to respect human rights. Beyond that, each company will need to define how this happens in practice. There is no one-size-fits all governance model...

Timeline