By enabling mobile banking and remote learning, as well as greater citizen participation, freedom of expression and coordination of democratic movements through social media platforms, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies are drivers for human rights and sustainable development, as noted by the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 17).
Yet ICT companies can and often do cause, contribute to or magnify human rights abuses - including users’ rights to digital privacy and freedom of expression - either by committing them directly, or by enabling abuses by governments and other companies. For example, social media platforms such as Facebook have contributed to spreading hate speech and inciting violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. Some have also been directly linked to efforts to influence elections, including in the United States and the United Kingdom while evidence suggests that governments are increasingly deploying surveillance technologies to monitor the legitimate actions of human rights defenders, including in Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
To assess whether ICT companies respect human rights, investors should call on ICT companies to know and show how their products and services impact users, especially communities who are vulnerable and marginalized. This requires a systematic approach toward human rights risks, including by conducting human rights impact assessments to identify salient human rights issues such as privacy, freedom of expression and non-discrimination. This information must be integrated into the very structure of the company, including through diversifying corporate boards, creating a risk oversight committees, and engaging regularly with human rights rights and investor advocacy groups.