Key Points

  • To uphold their responsibilities under the UNGPs, hardware and software companies must address the adverse human rights impacts related to the misuse of their products and services.
  • Companies often rely on third-party partners to sell their products and services, meaning they often lack insight into the end-customer and end-use.
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) funded BSR to publish a brief on best practices on human rights due diligence in technology sector sales channels.

Many of the human rights risks for hardware and software companies are related to the misuse of their products and services in ways that are connected to adverse human rights impacts. This includes, for example, the use of technology by a government entity to surveil political opponents, shut down internet access, facilitate censorship, or enable other human rights violations.

Technology vendor companies often rely heavily on sales partners—third parties who buy, distribute, integrate, and resell products and services to customers around the world. This means vendors often lack full insight into or control over who their products and services are sold to and how they are ultimately used.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) require all companies to respect human rights and implement human rights due diligence processes to identify and address actual and potential human rights impacts across the entire value chain—including those related to the sale and use of products and services. Therefore, to fulfill their commitments to implementing the UNGPs, vendors need their sales partners to also address end-use human rights risks.

Considering this challenge, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) funded BSR to develop a brief outlining guidance and best practices related to the human rights expectations of sales channels in the technology sector. The brief explores the current state of human rights due diligence across sales channels and challenges to effective due diligence, and it enumerates best practices for all entities, from vendors to distributors to resellers.

It comes in the context of expanding scrutiny from the business and human rights field, as well as regulators on the human rights impacts of the downstream sale and use of products and services. Whereas human rights risks in supply chains, or upstream impacts, have received significant scrutiny over the past three decades, stakeholders are increasingly demanding that companies address adverse human rights impacts across their entire value chains. BSR’s primer on human rights due diligence of products and services outlines this development and provides guidance for companies across all industries on getting started.

Although this brief is relevant for companies across all industries who utilize sales partners, it is primarily geared toward technology companies in the hardware and software industry who develop and sell products and services for enterprise and government customers. Increased media coverage and external stakeholder focus on the misuse of technology products and services have put pressure on hardware and software companies to better address the human rights risks associated with the sale and use of their products and services.

BSR notes that developing effective human rights due diligence processes in tech sector sales channels will take time and coordination across the industry. This brief is intended to provide guidance and best practices to assist companies in this journey.