UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

26 Nov 2018 to 28 Nov 2018
Palais des Nations
Geneva, Switzerland


Event report/s:
Stefania Grottola

The session was organised by Hermes Equity Ownership Services and DLA Piper, and moderated by Ms Sarah Ellington (Legal Director, DLA Piper), who introduced the pap

The session was organised by Hermes Equity Ownership Services and DLA Piper, and moderated by Ms Sarah Ellington (Legal Director, DLA Piper), who introduced the paper 'Supply Chain Human Rights Risk Management: Blockchain And Emerging Technology' as a starting point for the discussion. The question that the session aimed to answer was, 'Is it possible to do proper human rights due diligence across supply chains?'; and tried to address the possible role that technology could play in facilitating it. Technology in itself is not the answer: it has to work and implement the efficacy of existing systems. During the first part of the session, the panellists explained the status quo of current practices, while in the second part they focused on the application of technology as a means and tool to reinforce human rights due diligence in the supply chain.

Mr Darcy Hoogewerf (Product and Business Analyst, Everledger) gave an overview of how blockchain works. Blockchain is a distributed and immutable technology in which data is put into interconnected blocks. Keeping in mind that supply chains are quite often unstructured, the use of blockchain technologies can address the challenge of creating a structure in such processes in two main ways. First, it would allow for understanding the object of the chain, its owner and the specificities of the process. Second, it would implement transparency in the transaction analysis recording, such as for example, all the information related to moment the certificate of origin was created.

Dr Nicholas Garrett (Group CEO, RCS Global Group) talked about the current practices in place. The market is dominated by big companies actively looking for better implementation of human rights in the supply chain; however, in global terms, most companies are doing very little. To complement this picture, many companies work with industry associations and only some of them are very proactive. He argued that there is a need to solve the issue of not having full visibility in the supply chain; to this extent, it should be noticed that technology can implement the collection and analysis of quantitative data, however, qualitative data crucially depends on human activities and analysis.

With regards to the application of technology to the informal process of a supply chain, he explained that there is a need to find a way to obtain data and verify responsible processes. This would allow for the establishment of a data driven picture of what needs reform and improvement.

Ms Claire Gavini (Engagement, Hermes Investment Management) talked from the perspective of investment about the supply chain’s status quo and its relative gaps and challenges. She argued that regional legislations play a role in raising human rights issues; nonetheless, traceability remains a challenge in many cases. Investors look for the identification of the risks in the supply chain and manage them in an effective way. To this extent, collaboration would be the key to effectively address such challenges. When it comes to the application of technology to the process, she explained that it could implement the background analysis. Indeed, investors are increasingly monitoring companies practices on human rights from the perspective of risk management, as well as from the point of view of impact , in order to put in place better working practices for the working community.

Ms Nicky Black (Director, Environmental Stewardship and Social Progress, International Council on Mining and Metals) added an industry perspective to the panel. She explained three key areas that characterise the supply chain process:

  • the technical area, in which the major issues and concerns are related to traceability and language, and not centralised capability

  • the economic area, in which costs considerations need to be contextualised. To this extent, some initiatives tend to limit the chain of commodity to address the issue

  • the cultural area, featured by extremely complex supply relationships

Respect for human rights sits at the heart of the performance expectations, based on the requirements for sustainable development. In this context, creating a good framework for human rights due diligence is based on the establishment of relationships with the community. When doing it, a question should be kept in mind: are we really implementing what we understand good practice to be? To this extent, the use of blockchain technologies can implement the diagnosis of systemic structural issues. Nonetheless, the features of each process make it difficult to automatically apply the framework on a large scale.

Stefania Grottola

The session was organised by BSR and The B Team, and co-moderated by Mr Rajiv Joshi (Managing Director, The B Team) and Ms Margaret Jungk (Managing Director, Human Rights, BSR). The event addressed the role of businesses in the framework of fostering and promoting the respect of human rights. More specifically, the event identified risks and opportunities for companies to improve the protection for human rights, and tried to explore holistic corporate advocacy approaches for the respect of human rights.

Jungk introduced the topic under discussion. For a long time, companies have lobbied governments for business-related interests. The question that the panel tried to address was to create a business lobby for fostering and implementing the protection of human rights, in order words, a lobby for better human rights public policy. Moreover, she underlined that ethical issues and considerations that should be taken into account while addressing the topic.

Mr Steve Crown (Vice-President & Deputy-General Counsel, Microsoft) talked about the role of companies in advancing human rights policy. In order to take on such a role, companies need to be trusted by citizens and customers. Microsoft has started to engage with the public sector for better public trust building, with initiatives such as their engagement in privacy security with the US government, their global initiative for the LGBT community, their Cybersecurity TechAccord, and their initiative on artificial intelligence (AI) and human rights. The representative stressed that Microsoft’s policy for improving customers’ experience keeps in mind the principle of boosting human rights and advocating for the rule of law.

Ms Shelly Heald Han (Director of Civil Society Engagement, Fair Labor Association) stated that companies have a crucial role to play in improving labour conditions; however, there is still a long way to go. Companies are mistaken in thinking that they need to be neutral with regards to government relations: they need to take a stand, and push for better protection of human rights. Moreover, the role of the civil society needs to be reinforced: the goal is to balance the power of civil society and make it comparable to that of businesses.

Ms Paloma Munoz Quick (Quick Director, Investor Alliance for Human Rights, ICCR) argued that corporate respect for human rights creates long term economic benefits. Investors need to identify human rights risks related to their business relationships. Companies need to do whatever it takes to protect human rights; moreover, they have the duty to leverage their power to push governments to create better human rights policy. Companies’ efforts on public policy need to be in line with their guiding principles. A concrete example of this can be seen by some airline companies not accepting to fly immigrant children separated from their parents.

Mr Bennet Freeman (Senior Advisor, BSR) argued that we live in a time of geopolitical disruptions in which companies should advocate for fundamental freedom and respect of civil rights. Nonetheless, there are examples of companies undertaking important actions and pushing better public policies, such as Microsoft and Siemens.

Cedric Amon

The session was organised by the Global Network Initiative (GNI) and moderated by Mr Mark Stephen (Independen

The session was organised by the Global Network Initiative (GNI) and moderated by Mr Mark Stephen (Independent Board Chair, Global Network Initiative). Mr Bennett Freeman (Board of Directors, GNI) opened the discussion and referred to the GNI Principles and Implementation Guidelines which provide some guidance to the public when it comes to human rights due diligence. Other guidance has been provided by the Institute for Human Rights and Business, as well as Business for Social Responsibility.

Mr Dunstan Allison-Hope (Managing-Director, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)) spoke about the importance of focusing on the users that are the most exposed to risks in the information and communications techonology (ICT) sector, such as human rights defenders. He noted that while conducting human rights assessments, the perspective of risks and what was perceived as due diligence obligations varied from one place to another.

In terms of risks, Allison-Hope spoke about the challenges in approaching people who might be under surveillance without exposing them. He further mentioned the risk of exposure when asking companies to be transparent, given that certain types of information might be accessed by parties with malicious intent. Another issue he mentioned was the perception of companies operating in certain countries and withdrawing from them due to uncertain or worsening political conditions. While the public in the Global-North might welcome these steps as a stand against government, it might be a blow for the people within the country, relying on these networks and platforms. Allison-Hope also noted that 'we haven’t fully grappled how to do due diligence in an environment that is changing and uncertain.'

Mr Alex Warofka (Product Policy Manager, Human Rights and Freedom of Expression at Facebook) explained that Facebook tries to implement due diligence processes and monitors them through direct user research on user experience on the platform, asking users about their products. The results are then interpreted not only through human rights due diligence, but also a product lens to optimise privacy and human rights protection by design.

Regarding the risks, Warofka mentioned an example in which Facebook had taken down accounts of senior military officials in Denmark who had participated in human rights abuses offline. They faced public backlash because they had not consulted with human rights defenders on the ground. However, the decision was conscious so as to not endanger the defenders and risk exposing them to backlash from the military for denouncing the actions of the military officials.

According to Warofka, it is almost impossible to create new software and tools that fully comply with due diligence standards in all the markets it penetrates. For this reason, all stakeholders must work together to point out flaws and find sustainable solutions. Additionally, Warofka mentioned the difficulties of conducting human rights assessments on a global scale due to country specific regulations, which is why Facebook is implementing due diligence in its processes by design.

Ms Nicole Karlbach (Global Head, Business & Human Rights, Oath) said that when Yahoo! acquired the social media platform Tumblr, the company recognised the importance of implementing human rights due diligence mechanisms.

The company’s business and human rights team, which is part of the legal team, has since been growing. The team works in close contact with the other departments and engages with different partners to monitor due diligence and their results are publicly available.

Karlbach noted that Yahoo!’s participation in the GNI also reinforced the company’s commitment to its principles.

Ms Meg Roggensack (Interim Executive Director, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)) pointed out that technical equipment also has to be considered along with the other ICT related services. She also reiterated the important role of multistakeholder approaches given that today's challenges are a shared problem and require a range of combined solution strategies. Multistakeholderism can help to identify international frameworks and adapt them to different sectors.

Cedric Amon

The sessions was organised by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR). The moderator, Mr Phil Bloomer (Executive Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre), noted that we live in a world of extreme inequality in which power is not only attributed to the wealthiest, but also translated into forms of ownership and knowledge of data. He said that in facing the challenge of overcoming this inequality, the question about which direction we will take with regards to technology and data is essential. Knowing that there are two prominent views of the impact of technology on human rights: the dystopian vision of technology reinforcing the rift in society; and the utopian vision that sees technology empowering the most vulnerable populations.

Ms Meg Roggensack (Interim Executive Director, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)) explained that her work focuses mostly on the bottom of the supply chain, given that automation is accelerating so quickly that it increases social divides to the detriment of workers and weakens their bargaining positions.

Ms Abby Meaders-Henderson (Legal & Policy Fellow, ICAR) said that her research focuses on low-skilled labourers and pointed out that a lot of discussions about the impact of automation are focused on workers in the Globa- North. However, in her view, the impact of technology on low-skilled and manual labour are likely to be felt much earlier and to a greater degree in the Global-South, which puts these workers at a more immediate risk. Given that automation strongly affects repetitive, assembly line type of tasks that companies usually outsource to countries with weaker labour protection frameworks, it is important to strengthen workers’ positions by giving them the resources to strengthen their bargaining positions and help them protect themselves from the impact of potential job losses and shifting resource allocations. She further noted that vulnerable populations such as women, young workers, and migrants are disproportionately affected by these developments.

Meaders-Henderson pointed out that each stakeholder has a role to play in making sure that the transition to increasing automation happens equitably.

Mr Rob Johnston (Assistant Secretary-General of the ITF, International Transport Workers' Federation) explained that workers in the transportation sector are not necessarily against automation, but rather that they need to be convinced of its benefits and reassured of their role regarding automated tasks.

Johnston also noted that automation is not inevitable but that it is a policy choice and therefore its consequences need to be thought through. He recognised that technology has been of great value to increase the safety of transportation workers and that the desire for automation is strong in certain sectors. However, he also said that the perceived threat of automation is very context specific and dependent of the type of job that technology might replace.

Mr Philippe-André Rodriguez (Senior Advisor, Global Affairs Canada’s Center for International Digital Policy) noted that one of the main things that governments can do in the automation debate is to listen to, and engage with, the stakeholders. They need to reach out to vulnerable populations and find solutions to the impact that automation will have on their livelihoods.

Rodriguez introduced Canada’s Open Government Partnership which recognises the importance of setting the right culture in the discussions by making it clear that the debate of automation and human rights needs to be a race to the top in terms of rights protection. Governments therein can lead by example and adopt policies that recognise the importance of this premise. As a result of these open consultations, Canada has already drafted a Directive on Automated Decision-Making which includes a framework providing governmental oversight and audit procedures.

Ms Padmini Ranganathan (Global Vice President, Products & Innovation, SAP Ariba) mentioned the Skill Shift: Automation and the future of workforce discussion paper published by McKensey Global Institute according to which companies will increase their gains through worker displacement, wherein manual jobs are most at risk. The replacement of workers and wage saving will be turned into profits for the companies.

According to Ranganathan, brands and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) must identify risk factors through available data and apply it countermeasures throughout their supply chain. Companies must develop strategies for job shifts in collaboration with governments and civil society.

New ways must be found to redistribute the profits from wage savings in the from of community trainings and other measures. All stakeholders must do their part in reducing the potential conflicts arising from income polarisation and societal divides as well as finding mechanisms to reward businesses who are leading efforts for human rights due diligence in the context of automation.

Mr Dunstan Allison-Hope (Managing Director, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)) introduced the Automation: A Framework for a Sustainable Transition which includes measures such as:

  • Forecasting and announcing planned workforce changes early by making a company’s intention to automate processes clear and providing details to the workforce,

  • Committing to training and supporting educational programmes for the workers,

  • Providing for workers who are displaced, and

  • Encouraging public policies to modernise social safety nets.

However, it must be recognised that training programmes need to take labourers' skills into account and not simply focus on providing lessons.

Mr Yousuf Aftab (Principal, Enodo Rights) introduced the Just Transition framework. He noted that the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights are not clear on whether automation and the relocation of workers is a useful practice. Aftab also noted that the impacts of automation.

The Just Transition framework takes into account that the impacts of automation are systemic. While it was developed to tackle environmental challenges its concepts can also be applied to automation and human rights due diligence. The framework contains provisions to: assess, and engage with and empower workers; to regulate; to create new social safety nets; foster community and encourage sound investment as deliberate policy choices.

Another panellist spoke about the lessons to be learned from the dissolved Multifiber Arrangement which ended apparel quotas.

The panellist explained that there are two types of retrenchments which need to be distinguished despite having similar impacts on workers. Factories are upgrading and opting for automation and workers might lose jobs. However, companies that are going out of business for not having been able to keep up with technological trends might also cause job losses. In the latter cases, expectations for companies must be set - that they still have to provide for their workers - but governments must also consider adapting their social protection systems. Most importantly, companies going out of business must give workers:


  • Early notice

  • Select workers to be let go in transparent ways

  • Allocate time for workers in transition period

  • Respect payment of severances in accordance to local laws

  • establish criteria to re-hire workers

Stefania Grottola

The session was organised by the German Institute for Human Rights and moderated by Mr Christopher Schuller (German Institute for Human Rights). The forum was not a panel discussion, but a debating exercise in which the speakers did not represent their own ideas nor those of their organisations. It followed the British parliamentary debate format: Four speakers took the floor - two in support of - and two in opposition to - the question, 'Are tech companies a threat to human rights?'.

Ms Isabel Ebert (University of St. Gallen) and Ms Coraline Ada Ehmke (Software engineer and creator, Contributor Covenant) both agreed that tech companies are a threat to human rights, while Mr Faris Natour (Co-Founder and Principal, Article One) and Mr Luis Neves (Managing Director and CEO, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)) argued against this statement, saying that tech companies are not a threat to human rights.

The argument supporting the idea that tech companies are a threat to human rights identified tech companies as the perseverance of capitalism at the expense of the protection of human rights. The argument states that through active or passive actions, tech companies are perpetuating the framework of power and oppression. To this extent, states are not capable of regulating them and their services effectively. Indeed, an example of this is shown by algorithms which are not neutral, but maintain human biases in search engines. Moreover, it was argued that tech platforms are guilty of not preventing the abuse of technology that has influenced elections during the last few years. Furthermore, there is an ignorance of the power that comes with the so called data-driven management. Human rights are defined and limited by tech companies, abusing transparency and fairness, and reinforcing human biases through technology. Finally, the Surveillance Innovation Complex is the most disruptive and dangerous threat to human rights, posed by the activities of tech companies.

The argument opposing the idea that tech companies are a threat to human rights identifies four levels of responsibility: political, corporate, external, and individual. Moreover, technology can help address the following areas of concern. For instance, the fight against climate change can benefit from new technologies and their ability to create new means for collaboration and engagement without making people travel from one place to another. The management of resources represents another aspect that should be considered through the lens of the positive impact of technology, enabling engagement at low to no price. Moreover, with regard to the increase of inequalities, it should be noted that it is not only companies’ responsibility. Finally, it was noted that a major challenge faced by tech companies and human rights is related to artificial intelligence (AI). Despite the last concerns, technology has been a good turnpoint for human rights: new digital tools implement connectivity and engagement; AI has improved education and health; and crimes such as slavery and human trafficking can be better identified through the use of information and communications technology (ICT). Thus, it was argued that it is crucial to understand the benefits of technology and re-stress the importance of digital trust and responsibility. There is a need to make sure that principles are respected and that people trust the technology.

Stefania Grottola

The session was organised by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and was divided in two main parts. Moderated by Mr Dante Pesce (Chairperson UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights), the first part of the session covered government perspectives on the implementation of the guiding principles of business and human rights. The experiences and challenges from France, Liberia, and Thailand were addressed in a panel discussion, while additional contributions from the floor were added by ambassadors and state representatives from Colombia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Greece, the European Union, Brazil, Slovenia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Indonesia, India, and Belgium.

The first speaker, Mr Somn Promaros (Director-General of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, Ministry of Justice, Thailand), talked about the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Thailand. He explained the steps undertook by the Thai government for the national action plan following an oriented and substantive pathway, covering areas such as  but not limited to labour, national resources and community rights. Moreover, the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) is interlinked and reinforced in the framework of human rights. Finally, he stressed the importance of youth and the principle of leading by example in implementing the guidelines.

Ms Lorena Recabarren (Sub-Secretary of Human Rights, Government of Chile), speaking from a governmental position, explained the efforts taken by Chile so far. In order to achieve the fulfillment of the guiding principles, collaborative efforts are needed: therefore, in the case of Chile, strengthening the department of human rights is a priority in public policy. Nonetheless, coordinating the human rights-based approach in the implementation of public policy still represents a challenge on topics such as but not limited to  transitional justice, indigenous people, women, and children’s rights. Chile adopted its first national plan, which will be entering into force in 2019, featured by the leading principle of business as responsible for the protection of human rights in their activities and practices.

Ms Maylis Souque (Secretary-General French NCP Responsible Business Conduct, Ministry of Economy, France) talked about the leading experience of France in the implementation of mandatory due diligence through the complementary role of instruments of soft and hard law. With this regard, Souque highlighted the relevance of the French law on vigilance, characterised by a reporting feature, as well as a concrete impact on workers covering all dimensions of due diligence, including the supply chain dimension of the processes, as well as other topics such as security and sustainability. Such an approach is meant to have a cascade effect on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) on both national and international levels. These imply concrete solutions and remedies when a violation of human rights occurs. Finally, she highlighted France's focus on the implementation of circular economy as well as social-solidarity economy.

Mr Meo Beyan (Assistant Minister for Economic Affairs, Ministry for Economic Affairs, Liberia) explained the efforts Liberia is implementing to make sure that corporate actors ensure the protection of human rights in their activities and practices. The process is a non-exhaustive one and it should be supported by less bureaucratic mechanisms on the national level, as well as through the creation of unions with the mandate of persevering the protection of human rights.

The session then featured comments from the floor, adding additional perspectives from the experiences of Colombia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Greece, the European Union, Brazil, Slovenia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Indonesia, and Belgium.

Colombia stressed the fundamental role of involving different stakeholders, as well as creating inter-agency groups, in addressing the implementation of the guidelines. The Netherlands highlighted the Dutch pioneer practice of concluding agreements between policy units, business units and NGOs. To date, six agreements have been signed to ensure responsible business conduct. The EU highlighted the achievements made so far by the development and implementation of regulations on the disclosure of financial information, as well as on the timber regulation. Moreover, the EU is implementing a soft law initiative on ensuring sustainable economic growth. Switzerland stressed that more visibility is needed for more effectiveness on the protection of human rights.

The second part of the session focused on the implementation of national actions plans (NAPs) on business and human rights. It was introduced by Mr Daniel Morris (Adviser, Human Rights and Business, The Danish Institute for Human Rights), who explored the findings of the current state of NAPs. As in the first part of the session, a panel discussion addressed the experiences and challenges from Sweden, Japan, Italy, Germany, and Kenya, and was followed by additional comments on national implementations.

Mr Fabrizio Petri (President of the Italian Inter-ministerial Committee for Human Rights, The Government of Italy BHR, HUMAN RIGHTS, LGBTI RIGHTS, ATHEISM) talked about the pathway of the Italian National Action Plan. The plan represents a strong commitment for the protection of the rights of less-represented categories, which after the mid-term review, will address the more effective protection of the rights of media managers and journalists. The Italian NAP was built in three moments. First, the steering committee started the work on an institutional level. Second, a multistakeholder dialogue was put in place and involved more than eighty entities. Third, an online consultation meant to reach a broader audience involved ten additional entities. Finally, reinforcing human rights and sustainable development is the key to putting human dignity at the centre of the attention again.

Mr Jakob Kiefer (CSR Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden) explained that the NAP was approved in 2016. The policies are based on the Global Compact principle, as well as gender, sustainability, and taxation. One of the biggest challenges is to assist and have a dialogue with firms in the field, as well as the eventual lack of competence in the area of CSR. 'The state has to lead and show by example' and a human rights perspective has to come with a top-down approach in all companies. In terms of challenges, the issue of procurement should be taken into consideration, as well as the need to assess a more effective location of funds. Moreover, while the discussions on having compulsory mechanisms for due diligence might sound premature, there is a need to reconsider and achieve first and foremost the principle of 'do no harm' as a guiding one for companies.

Ms Irene Maria Plank (Head of Division 'Business and Human Rights', Federal Foreign Office, Germany) focused on multistakeholder involvement and on the achievement reached on the responsible and sustainable measurement of supply and value chain. Moreover, Germany has created a pilot project meant to help German firms operating in foreign countries to follow the principle of due diligence. The mandate is to create a collection of information that German firms can refer to, evaluate the takeaways, and eventually expand the project worldwide.

Ms Stella Wangechi (Senior Human Rights Officer, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Kenya The NAP development process in Kenya) said that Africa does not currently have a NAP; however, Kenya is finalising its NAP, addressing priority areas such as land, labour, environment, revenue management, and access to remedies. In countries like Kenya, where the business landscape is mainly made up of small enterprises, it is difficult to stream due diligence into the practice of such companies. This represented the main challenge in achieving the NAP in Kenya.

The final speaker, Mr Ken Okaniwa (Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Japan in Geneva), shared Japan’s experience in developing its NAP. Japan included the NAP into the expanded SDGs national plan, and in the growth strategy for the country. Nonetheless, access to remedy was one of the main issues discussed in the multistakeholders consultations which requires further attention and efforts.



Cedric Amon

The session was organised by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and Article One. It was co-moderated by Mr Dunstan Allison-Hope (Managing Director, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)) and Mr Faris Natour (Co-Founder and Principal, Article One). In his opening remarks, Allison-Hope mentioned the risks related to artificial intelligence (AI) in relation to the complexity of the deployed technology. He further noted the speed with which developments take place in the field, the uncertainty connected to AI developments, and how human rights protection mechanisms can be implemented within these evolutions. Natour highlighted that we are already in the middle of AI driven transformations and that AI is already being used in many sectors and in tools such as translation apps, face recognition, and search engine algorithms.

Ms Hibah Kamal-Grayson (Public Policy Manager, Human Rights and Internet Governance, Google) said that at its core, AI is an adaptive technology which is already used in various fields, such as spam detection, as well as for more complex issues such as wildfire predictions.

She highlighted that Google abides by the existing laws, but that also respects the principles set out by the Global Network Initiative and its internal AI principles published in June 2018. Kamal-Grayson recognised that while Google works according to its own principles, they can be expanded upon and that they are a good starting point. She further pointed out that core tensions arise from the difficulty of developing all encompassing due diligence standards, while designing them in a way to make them enforceable. 'No one stakeholder, no one sector will be able to figure out this challenge by itself'.

Ms Eimear Farrell (Advocate and Advisor, Technology and Human Rights, Amnesty Tech, Amnesty International) spoke about the UN Global Compact's - Project Breakthrough which aims to analyse how AI can help to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDG).

Farrell identified the increasing implementation of human rights language in AI principles rather than the referencing of ethical standards as a very positive development in the field. According to her, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights needs to adapt to, and incorporate, technological developments of AI. Keeping in mind the Declaration of Human Rights, Farrell mentioned that it was very innovative when it was first adopted, and that new frameworks for AI also need to be bold. Therein, she also saw a role for civil society to engage with companies and not just call them out on human rights abuses.

Mr Steve Crown (Deputy General Counsel, Human Rights, Microsoft) said that ethics and human rights language are both included in Microsoft’s guiding principles, but that which classification was highlighted most also depended on the audience.

Through human rights impact assessments, Microsoft has tried to figure out where its responsibility lies when thinking about its entire value chain. He mentioned the need to give AI users guidance, similar to the instructions for use of medicine, in order to inform them about the appropriate uses and limitations of the technology. Given the adaptive nature of AI, simply accessing the source code of certain algorithms is insufficient to understand certain processes. It is therefore important to inform the users about the potential uses of the technology they are using.

Ms Sabrina Rau (Senior Research Officer, Big Data and Technology Project, School of Law Human Rights Centre, University of Essex) explained that while AI learns and adapts through algorithms, data and big data are the elements fueling the technology and should thus be given more attention. According to Rau, due diligence for human rights must be respected at all stages of the value chains given that wrongful or skewed data can lead to unwanted outcomes. Data must therefore also be monitored and managed along the value chain. Rau also mentioned the importance of due diligence of business relationships and ensuring transparency throughout the processes.

Ms Kelli Schlegel (Manager, Human Rights, Intel) said that in order to implement privacy by design, it needs to be a core concern for companies. As technology is increasingly widespread, more issues are coming to light. Developers must therefore be trained in human rights protection and due diligence mechanisms in order to understand how their creations can impact them and how to develop technology that operates within the boundaries of due diligence. Schlegel also mentioned that implementing due diligence is often easier in existing processes than when designing new applications. However, once the diligence phase is in place, having a review board or a way for employees to raise concerns regarding the respect of human rights need to be implemented.

Mr Minwoo Kim (Research Professor, Korea University Human Rights Center) explained that AI carries many risks, as it amplifies privacy issues due to the data it collects and requires to function. The trend of decentralisation only increases these difficulties. Kim further noted that privacy by design only provides protection for one human right, but that due diligence should take the entirety of the human rights framework into account.

Ms Olga DiPretoro (Program Officer, Winrock International) spoke about developments in which the due diligence role for companies has been reinforced, and mentioned the example of the US Tariff Act which requires companies to prove continuous monitoring of their value chains.

According to DiPretoro, data checks need to be enhanced in order to reinforce due diligence mechanisms. Companies’ data has so far been assessed individually and the data and the results of its analyses are not being shared within the industry. She pointed to duplications of efforts because audit results were not shared, thereby limiting companies’ abilities to make improvements. She urged for an improvement of business and civil society collaboration on information sharing that will allow consistent analysis.

A representative from SAP mentioned that AI is good for discovering patterns and making improvements to processes. According to him, human rights should be viewed as a business process that starts with the fundamental commitment of the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. While the commitment to these principles does not involve AI directly it is a crucial step for the respect of due diligence. He noted that AI can provide help in assessing actual and potential impacts of businesses and human rights by predicting risks or visualise relationships between suppliers and customers. Therein, AI can be used to monitor value chain processes, ongoing interactions of communities and their application of AI technology, and analysing contracts and other legal documents to identify weak human rights protection mechanisms. This information can then be used in a collaborative framework and used to benchmark businesses’ performances.

[Update] The Geneva Internet Platform is providing just-in-time reporting from digital policy related sessions.

The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights represents the world's largest annual gathering on the topic, with more than 2 000 participants from government, business, community groups and civil society, law firms, investor organisations, UN bodies, national human rights institutions, trade unions, academia, and the media. The forum features panel discussions on topics related to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the United Nations 'Protect, Respect and Remedy' Framework), as well as current business-related human rights issues. 

The event will take place on 26-28 November 2018 in Geneva, and it will address the central topic of 'Business respect for human rights – building on what works'.

Registration is available at the following link.

For more information about the event, visit the dedicated webpage



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