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Report

1 Nov 2021

Author:
OHCHR B-Tech

B-Tech Community of Practice reflections on status of business respect for human rights in the technology sector

This note offers reflections on recent progress with regards to tech companies’ human rights efforts, and points to challenges or areas for improvement that participants will now pursue via the [B-Tech Company Community of Practice or (CoP)]...

  1. A growing number of technology companies, but not all, are publishing human rights policy commitments, with explicit reference to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
  2. Human rights leads in tech companies all tend to be tasked with embedding human rights considerations across processes and functions, [stewarding] ongoing engagement with civil society and other stakeholders, and informing senior leadership’s decision-making in relation to specific human rights dilemmas.
  3. Some technology companies are conducting human rights assessments related to specific aspects of their product and service portfolio, and to significant business transactions and decisions.
  4. Embedding human rights considerations into existing product and service processes is a priority focus for human rights leads in technology companies.
  5. Many technology companies have clear, well-rehearsed processes that are triggered when changes to government policy or law pose a risk to freedom of expression or privacy. Such situations demand that companies conduct human rights due diligence. Within many companies, human rights teams provide input into these processes, including by articulating what international human rights instruments and the UNGPs expect of these companies in the face of such developments.

Looking Ahead: B-Tech COP Focus

The following themes have been identified by B-Tech as issues for attention via the B-Tech COP and by extension, the project’s engagement with different stakeholders. The B-Tech Project will produce public outputs for each of them.

– Theme One: The strategic aspects of business respect for human rights. How is human rights due diligence by tech companies supported and acted on by Boards and executives, being applied to business strategy decisions and integrated into enterprise-level risk management? How can engagement with experts and affected stakeholders be improved to more effectively identify and address human rights risks?

– Theme Two: Addressing risk to people expectations across the product and service lifecycle, and the “tech stack”. How are (or should) the UNGPs be applied in day-to-day decision-making and actions of companies, especially where a product or service can deliver human rights benefits? How can the UNGPs help provide clarity about the different but complementary actions that companies at different levels of the so-called “tech stack” should take? What opportunities exist for coordinated and collaborative due diligence across the tech value chain?

– Theme Three: Delivering Remedy. What form does remedy take in order to be responsive to adverse impacts related to digital technologies? What are the opportunities and limits of company-led complaints or feedback mechanisms? How can an effective remedy “ecosystem” be established for harms related to the design, development, and use of digital technologies?

Timeline