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Vodafone: Respecting Human Rights in the Digital World

July 26, 2013

The Challenge

The information and communications technology (ICT) industry faces numerous human rights challenges and opportunities at a time when international consensus has emerged around the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. These human rights "hot spots" range from upholding labor rights in the ICT supply chain to promoting freedom of expression and protecting privacy among consumers online.

The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights—which establish clarity on government's duty to protect and business' responsibility to respect human rights—indicate that businesses should act with due diligence to avoid infringing on human rights and address actual or potential adverse impacts on human rights.

Vodafone enlisted BSR to help apply the key elements of the Guiding Principles to the company's human rights strategy and operations.

Our Strategy

BSR led a three-part process to align Vodafone’s strategy with the Guiding Principles:

  • Created a human rights map: To identify Vodafone’s human rights risks and opportunities, we used the International Bill of Human Rights as a baseline (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,  and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights).
  • Identified hot spots: Next, through tagging of risks and opportunities, BSR singled out human rights hot spots of significance for Vodafone.
  • Analyzed opportunities to improve company practices: Finally, we reviewed the company’s policies and processes on identified human rights hot spots, compared them to the requirements of the Guiding Principles, offered examples from other companies, and made recommendations on how the company could address those issues.

BSR’s analysis identified the categories of human rights most relevant to Vodafone’s business: labor rights; civil and political rights; rights of the child; economic, social, and cultural rights; land and property acquisition; and the environment.

Our Impact

Based on our analysis, Vodafone has:

  • Reinforced the inclusion of human rights in the Vodafone Code of Conduct.
  • Strengthened its due diligence process for entering new markets (either unilaterally or through partnerships with other operators).
  • In its reporting, brought together details of its policies and programs relating to identified human rights hotspots to more closely align to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Our Lessons Learned

Helping Vodafone review its human rights strategy demonstrated why it is important for companies to look at these issues in a holistic and collaborative 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 develop a strategy that is comprehensive enough to be applied across country operations but that is flexible enough to adapt to local needs.
  • The telecommunications industry lacks a relevant industry standard for reporting on human rights, underscoring the need for companies to work with their peers to define relevant indicators to report performance on human rights challenges to stakeholders.

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