Five on Friday – Five Recent Developments that We’ve Been Watching Closely

It’s Friday iStock_000011057325XSmalland time for another overview of developments in the field of business and human rights that we’ve been monitoring.

This week’s post includes: the announcement of a new corporate alliance intended to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace; the release of a paper by Professor John Ruggie on the development of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and guidance from the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights on the human rights responsibilities of banks.

  • On June 12, the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (“OHCHR”) published a response to a request from the non-governmental organization BankTrack for advice on the application of the UN Guiding Principles to the financial sector. The report addresses what factors might influence a determination as to whether a bank is “causing or contributing to” an adverse human rights impact. While noting that “many of the impacts associated with a bank’s financial products and services” may result in a bank being “directly linked” to an impact, a bank could “cause” an impact when its activities or omissions, on their own, “remove or reduce” a person’s ability to enjoy a human right. A bank may “contribute” to an adverse human rights impact either directly alongside other entities, “or through some outside entity,” including a bank’s client, if the bank’s actions influenced the client in such a way as to make the adverse impact more likely. Notably, the OHCHR’s response comes just a few months after the January 2017 release of discussion paper by the Thun Group, a group of global banks, that asserted that banks may only “contribute to” adverse human rights impacts through their own direct activities and not through the activities of their clients.
  • On June 12, Professor John Ruggie, the former UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, released a new paper, “The Social Construction of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” published through the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The paper is intended to provide context on the social and conceptual context for the development of the UN Guiding Principles as a way of enhancing understanding with regard to, and providing potential lessons for, future exercises in global rulemaking.
  • On June 12, more than 175 CEOs announced a new alliance, the “CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion,” that is intended to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The CEO Action involves three specific pledges focused on the following focus areas: creating a safe workplace environment for dialogue; mitigating unconscious bias; and sharing best – and worst – practices.  At the time of the launch, the CEOs issued a statement observing, “[w]e recognize that diversity and inclusion are multi-faceted issues and that we need to tackle these subjects holistically to better engage and support all underrepresented groups within business. To do this, we believe we also need to address honestly and head-on the concerns and needs of our diverse employees and increase equity for all, including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, LGBTQ, disabled, veterans and women. This group convened to ask what we can do collectively as business leaders, because one fact is clear: we have to do more.”
  • On June 15, Facebook announced that it would begin using artificial intelligence, working in conjunction with human moderators, to remove online content that violates the company’s terms of use. The announcement focused on the role of companies in fighting terrorism online, including through the removal of extremist content. Facebook, and other social media companies, are under increasing pressure to address extremist content posted on their platforms. On June 1, the European Commission published an evaluation of corporate performance pursuant to a Code of Conduct, announced in May 2016, by which Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft agreed to review the majority of valid notifications regarding illegal hate speech within 24 hours and to remove or disable access to the content, if necessary. The Commission found that Facebook was the only company that achieved the target of reviewing the majority of notifications within one day.

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