Stakeholder roles for human rights due diligence

7 Dec 2021 16:30h - 17:30h

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The session discussed the importance of ensuring that human rights due diligence (HRDD) efforts engage key stakeholders and facilitate and support collaboration across different initiatives and stakeholders. Ms Sarina Phu (Research and Program Associate, Global Network Initiative) moderated the conversation, which encompassed HRDD activities for traditional business sectors as well as for tech companies.

Regarding technology companies, Mr Dunstan Allison-Hope (Vice President, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)) considered that although human rights impact assessments may come in different shapes and forms, there are a few common challenges that companies face.

First, for companies, it is difficult to focus on the impact of their product on people rather than considering the impact of their product on their business and other market actors.

Second, it is crucial to engage with rights holders and stakeholders, especially those at heightened risk of becoming vulnerable and marginalised. On this aspect, Mr Usama Khilji (Bolo Bhi, civil society organisation in Pakistan) added that companies should also consider how they perpetuate inequalities unintentionally. For example, in the case of education, companies should also look into what to do to educate people on how to use their products since ‘selling a new technology is not enough’.

Third, assessments should help companies to identify and take appropriate actions to address the impacts of their technology.

Panellists agreed that human rights assessments are only one part of a broader system of HRDD. They represent the starting point to stimulate dialogue and discussion inside companies and create action plans to address human rights issues. Moreover, echoing Khilji’s view, they agreed that HRRD should not only think about the negative impact of technology but also consider the positive impact that these technologies and their companies’ presence can have in different territories across the world.

The discussion continued considering one of the main challenges faced by human rights impact assessments reports: transparency. As Mr Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte (Professor, Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Palermo University in Argentina) explained, there is often no transparency on the access of these reports and on how they are used. Moreover, clarity on how HR standards should guide conduct in practice is still lacking – especially when it comes to platforms and internet companies. This is because we do not have a clear picture of what mechanisms are ongoing and what their effects are, especially in different societies and different contexts.

One the point of the difficulty of precisely assessing the impact of products, Ms Cathrine Bloch Veiberg (Senior Adviser, Human Rights and Business, Danish Institute for Human Rights) added that ‘new technologies and new solutions mean that there are limited lessons to learn from the mistakes and successes of others.’ Presenting on the findings of the Guidance on Human Rights Impact Assessment for Digital Business Activities report, she explained that in the case of digital business, it is extremely important to engage the rights holders as these may often not even be aware of the impact of an algorithm on them (e.g. in the case of automated credit risk ratings).

Mr Rene van Eijk (Senior Policy Advisor Digital Economy, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, the Netherlands) considered the specific case of the European Union’s Digital Service Act (DSA) as an example of regulation determining the obligations of internet platforms when it comes to content moderation. In particular, van Eijk considered the due diligence section. On the identification of what constitutes illegal content, the DSA does not provide a specific definition, rather it relies on the definitions or refers to the definitions that are adopted by EU member states or included in EU instruments.

The DSA also sets a transparency requirement by asking online platforms to be transparent to their users about the advertisements that are proposed to the users themselves. Finally, the DSA also removes barriers for due process for end users by offering users different appeal mechanisms in the case of disagreements on the removal of the content.

Mr Muhammad Hassan Mangi (Director General, Federal Ministry of Human Rights, Pakistan) illustrated Pakistan’s recently adopted National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights – the first-ever action plan on this issue in South East Asia. The Action Plan has due diligence mechanisms built into its provisions to make sure that all businesses comply with human rights, with the ultimate aim to end all sorts of discrimination at the workplace and ensure labour, health, and safety standards. He specified that HRDD is an ongoing exercise involving a wide range of stakeholders with the possibility of learning from each other.

By Marco Lotti

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