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Article

10 Mar 2022

Author:
AccessNow

What the tech sector can do to respect human rights in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and beyond

What the tech sector can do to respect human rights in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and beyond, AccessNow, 10 March 2022

Over the past two weeks, the international community has watched the crisis in Ukraine escalate into war. In the midst of this crisis, the tech sector finds itself as a player in the conflict, caught between government and regulatory demands to limit or restrict services and growing pressure from the public and civil society to take urgent action to prevent human rights harms.

However, this crisis really began in 2014, giving companies operating in the region at least eight years to develop policies and practices for a situation like this. What we’ve seen instead is the outsized power of the tech sector being wielded in an inconsistent manner as decisions to leave, stay, or limit and restrict services deeply impact the lives of individuals in the region...

As the war in Ukraine continues to unfold, it is critical that all businesses, but especially tech companies and those investing in the tech sector, carefully review their ongoing and planned activities in the region to fully understand how and whether their operations can potentially cause or  contribute, even indirectly, to any adverse human rights impacts...

Compliance with sanctions is not compliance with human rights obligations

This war has shown that the tech sector can act quickly when it chooses to, and sanctions have been an important driving force in pushing companies to act – for better or worse...

The most important thing companies and investors can do in such a situation to fulfil their human rights obligations under the UNGPs is to ensure they fully understand their human rights impact – not only for the parent company but also local affiliations, suppliers, and any other business relationships potentially connected to and contributing to their operations. If a company’s due diligence investigation indicates that it is not possible to continue operating without violating these rights, companies must ensure, as much as possible, that their potential exit from the country or withdrawal of goods or services from the market does not, in turn, result in other adverse human rights impacts...

In the face of such a brutal and blatantly illegal use of military intervention, it is more important than ever for companies and investors to work together and engage with civil society and human rights advocates on ground to fully understand the potential human rights consequences – and the potential solutions – of the tech sector as a whole  in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus.

Recommendations for companies and investors include:

For investors: Conduct ongoing, enhanced human rights due diligence and check for any direct equity or fixed-income investments in Russia or Belarus involving the Russian and Belarusian state or any of their agencies, state-affiliated entities, or Russian separatists in occupied eastern Ukraine to understand your potential risks, whether these are direct or indirect risks occurring through your potential investment...

For tech companies: Adopt policies and practices that identify, assess, and address the heightened human rights risks inherent in conflict-affected and high-risk areas.

Take all possible measures to protect your workers and the communities in which your value chain operations take place in Ukraine...

For telcos and internet service providers in Europe: Protect infrastructure to maintain connectivity and push back against any orders for internet and communications shutdowns...

For tech platforms: Maintain services in the region to the extent possible.  In war time and other fragile and conflict-affected situations, these platforms are even more necessary for civic organizing, communications, and receiving and imparting information.

Limit the reach of Russian and Belarusian state-sponsored propaganda actors and the spread of disinformation on your platforms. Any restrictions should be in compliance with the rule of law and the principles of legality, legitimacy, and necessity and proportionality...

How the tech sector chooses to respond to the current situation in Ukraine will set a precedent for future conflicts – therefore, it is essential that companies get it right. This is a chance for the sector to step up and do what it did not do in similar situations in Ethiopia, Palestine, and Myanmar. The immense power of the sector can be wielded to protect human rights.

ENDS

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