Council on Ethics Takes Aim at Tech Companies

    Stockholm (NordSIP) – Despite initial hopes that the internet would solve all the problems of the world, and notwithstanding the many benefits it has brought to modern life, tech companies have come repeatedly under fire for their human rights practices. Amazon’s working conditions are reputed to be disparaging if not, on occasion, dangerous. Apple, through its suppliers, has also had its fair share of scandals, not least with Indian factory workers protesting lack of salary payments this week. Even Google has come under fire by AP7 over sexual harassment claims. Meanwhile, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, have also come under intense scrutiny for allowing foreign agents to use their platforms to interfere in elections.

    To address these concerns, the Council on Ethics of Sweden’s AP Funds published a list of Human Rights demands it has for large tech companies. The demands are outlined in a document the Council on Ethics authored together with the Danish Institute for Human Rights titled “Tech giants and human rights: Investor expectations”. Among other issues, the document highlights four selected human rights risks for Tech giants, including privacy and data protection, freedom of expression, elections, public and political discourse, and discrimination.

    The document is described as a starting point for engagement with tech companies, “a platform for the Council on Ethics and for other investors, in order to conduct a more constructive dialogue with the tech sector regarding the companies’ responsibility for human rights.”

    According to John Howchin, Secretary-General of the AP Funds Ethics Council, “we need a broader discussion on the corporate responsibility of tech companies and respect for fundamental human rights. It is still a relatively “young” sector that in a short time has grown rapidly and has a wide impact. With this, many difficult issues have followed. We do not have all the answers to these questions as it is in many ways a new playingfield we have in front of us, but we know from our experience of engaging with other sectors over the years that difficult questions can be addressed if you work in a structured way with the problems. Our goal is for this document to be a platform for that work. Not only for us and other investors but also for other stakeholders who are involved in the issues”

     “Tech giants’ human rights impacts are wide-ranging and include impacts linked to the gathering, use and commercialisation of personal data and content moderation. Risks to human rights are enshrined in tech giants’ business models, corporate governance and incentive structures,” says Eva Grambye, Vice President of the Danish Institute for Human Rights. “To counteract such risks, we recommend that human rights considerations are integrated into tech giants’ business strategies, policies and planning. It is therefore very positive to see the Council on Ethics of the AP-funds send such a strong signal to the tech giants. Financial institutions have a responsibility to respect human rights and address human rights abuses and they should use their leverage towards the companies in their portfolio.”

    Asset managers such as APG, AXA Investment Management, Church of England Pensions Board, Church Commissioners of England, COMGEST, Kempen, Legal & General Investment Management, LGPS Central, New Zealand Super Fund, Robeco, Royal London Asset Management, and USS support the demands of the Council on Ethics and have begun to engage with the tech companies along similar lines.

    Image © NordSIP

    Filipe Albuquerque
    Filipe Albuquerque
    Filipe is an economist with 8 years of experience in macroeconomic and financial analysis for the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UN World Institute for Development Economic Research, the Stockholm School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Filipe holds a MSc in European Political Economy from the LSE and a MSc in Economics from the University of London, where he currently is a PhD candidate.

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