An ICT Company’s To-Do List on Human Rights

October 2, 2012
  • Dunstan Allison-Hope portrait

    Dunstan Allison-Hope

    Senior Advisor, BSR

Dunstan Allison Hope, Managing Director, Advisory Services, BSR

Over the past 18 months, both BSR and our information and communications technology (ICT) member companies have made significant progress applying the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Together we’ve undertaken human rights impact assessments, run engagements with stakeholders, and written new human rights policies. We’ve learned a lot during that time, which we recently summarized as “10 lessons learned” in our report on applying the Guiding Principles to the ICT industry.

Last week we gathered representatives of ICT companies in our (elegant) Paris office to discuss these lessons learned. But we soon found the conversation heading in a very different direction—not looking back at lessons, but looking forward to what we need to do next. The to-do list is long, but four items struck me as especially significant:

  • Home-to-host country diplomacy: ICT companies frequently find themselves in situations where their ability to respect human rights is severely constrained by the “host” government of the market in question. ICT companies often have limited room to maneuver, and would benefit from increased diplomatic intervention in support of human rights by their “home” governments. The question remains, though: How do we make this happen?
  • Understanding remedy: ICT companies are integrating human rights into their existing ethics ombudsperson processes. However, there is a need to understand what happens once accusations of human rights violations are made—and reflect on the not-unrealistic scenario in which, given the billions of ICT users worldwide, complaints arrive in the hundreds and thousands rather than twos and threes.
  • Training: Rather than undertake one-size-fits-all training, there is a need to understand which communities within ICT companies—such as product designers, law enforcement, and government relations—would benefit the most from training, and what type of training would engage them best.
  • Reporting: While companies are improving their descriptions of human rights policies and processes, there is a need to identify common key performance indicators and increase comparability.

I found the discussions about these forward-looking priorities and practical approaches highly engaging and motivating. Human rights in business really have moved from the “why” to the “how.”

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