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Telefónica: Assessing Human Rights Risks and Opportunities

May 3, 2013

The Challenge

In today’s networked world, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector is facing increased scrutiny for its role in enabling and inhibiting human rights—including issues as diverse as privacy rights; labor standards in product manufacturing; resource extraction in conflict zones; and contributing to respect for rights such as freedom of expression, health, and education.

The Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica, which operates in 16 markets in Europe and Latin America, has an interest in applying the same level of human rights protections in all of its diverse regions.

Telefónica engaged BSR to assess its human rights impacts, risks, and opportunities in each of its operating regions—marking what may be the first time a company in the ICT industry has done this.

Our Strategy

BSR worked with Telefónica to build an organizationwide human rights strategy grounded in a firm understanding of the company’s risks and opportunities to enhance human rights and gain business value through market differentiation and social innovation. We started by conducting a corporate- and country-level human rights impact assessment (HRIA) that included three steps:

  1. Internal assessment: We reviewed the company’s corporate policies and procedures and developed a global tool to measure Telefónica’s human rights risks and opportunities across 16 markets.
  2. Local assessment: Next, Telefónica’s country-level markets completed an HRIA to uncover risks and opportunities. This was done by examining the company’s management systems and activities, addressing regional risks and opportunities, examining its history of performance on human rights issues, and evaluating local stakeholders’ perceptions about the company’s impacts.
  3. Analysis and strategy plan: Based on these assessments, BSR provided practical recommendations to help the company address stakeholder expectations, strengthen management systems where needed, and improve due diligence on human rights at the corporate and country levels.

Our Impact

Telefónica’s new human rights plan has helped the company align decision-makers across all markets as well as at the corporate level. Through the plan, the company also has developed a plan for corporate headquarters and country-level operations to improve due diligence, risk mitigation, and management of opportunities.

Lessons Learned

Working with Telefónica on its human rights strategy demonstrated why it is important for companies to look at human rights in a holistic way:

  • By examining not only risks but opportunities to advance human rights, it is easier to gain support from senior management and improve performance as a whole.
  • It is important to educate in-country staff on human rights issues so they can help identify and address local challenges. It is also important to develop a strategy that is comprehensive enough to be applied across country operations, but that is flexible enough to adapt to local needs.
  • In an HRIA, stakeholder engagement helps ensure that decision-makers understand the local context and use that knowledge to assess the effects of existing management systems and initiatives.

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