Human rights are inherent to all human beings. They are defined and established in more than 80 international legal instruments1 and include fundamental protections of human dignity, needs, and freedoms, such as food, housing, privacy, personal security, and democratic participation.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the duty to protect human rights has primarily fallen on governments. However, over the following decades, it became increasingly clear that the freedoms enshrined in the human rights framework could also be violated—and promoted—by the private sector.

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles), the first international instrument to assign companies the responsibility to respect human rights. The Guiding Principles state that governments must put in place good policies, laws, and enforcement measures to prevent companies from violating rights, that companies must refrain from negatively impacting rights, and that victims of corporate abuses must have access to effective remedy. As part of this responsibility, the Guiding Principles require companies to undertake due diligence to identify and manage their negative human rights impacts.

This issue brief identifies the 10 most salient human rights risks for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies, as well as opportunities for positive impact. The information here is gathered from BSR’s direct engagement with ICT companies, as well as our 25 years of experience helping companies in all sectors manage their human rights risks.

The ICT sector comprises a huge range of businesses and activities, such as internet, telecommunications, consumer electronics, software, network hardware, semiconductors, and media companies. While each of these sub-sectors will have its own human rights profile and challenges, this brief highlights common industry-wide challenges. When compared to other industries, the extent to which human rights impacts occur during the entire lifecycle—manufacture, use, and disposal—of the ICT industry’s products, services, and technologies is notable.