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Article

Examining Ericsson's human rights assessment for introducing 5G technology

"Planning for Risk Mitigation: Assessing Human Rights in Strategy Development and Roll out", March 2021

When human rights practitioners develop strategies to identify and prevent risk to people, they often feel like their hands are tied: the business is already operating in a certain way, in given markets with different levels of risk, selling a line of products that already exists and partnering with suppliers that have already been decided by other functions. They then spend effort and resources trying to superimpose human rights considerations onto an approach that is already wired to impact people.

But what if that were not the case? What if a company could build human rights risk planning into the design of a new strategy, or soon-to-launch product or business model transformation? Companies could develop a product or roll out a strategy with the necessary safeguards in place to mitigate risks to people, to improve company decision-making, and to potentially re-shape business behaviors. Crucially, an early and full view of the potential impacts across the ecosystem in which a new product, service or strategy sits would also enable a company to bring in the right peers and partners to address them.

... [A]head of the upcoming large-scale rollout of 5G, Ericsson [and Shift] ... embarked on a distinct human rights assessment, looking not at what the impacts were, but at what they could be...

  • Through the value chain, Ericsson identified ways in which privacy could be at risk if the new technology enables apps to gather an exponentially greater amount of data without the knowledge or consent of users, and then sell it to digital advertisers to help them target their messaging more effectively.
  • 5G will enable machines to take on more specialized and professional work, potentially impacting significant portions of the working population (blue and white-collar workers alike) in the future. This will require a concerted response by businesses and governments to ensure a ‘just transition’ for workers through new skills development.
  • 5G technology is also likely to support increased surveillance capabilities, including more precise geolocation data, which could be misused for illegitimate purposes, such as enabling governments to target specific groups or shutdown networks in more discrete ways.