Microsoft commissioned Foley Hoag to conduct a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) on the impact of Microsoft’s cloud and artificial intelligence technologies. Specifically, we sought to understand the impacts that such technologies have on communities of color in the United States when those technologies are licensed to law enforcement agencies. Microsoft commissioned the HRIA in response to a shareholder letter expressing concern regarding the human rights impact of certain Microsoft products in various contexts.
Foley Hoag’s HRIA is the first of its kind. Since 2011, businesses have been guided in their efforts to demonstrate respect for human rights by the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Microsoft, like other companies, follows the UNGPs when conducting due diligence on the human rights impacts of its products and services. HRIAs are intensive forms of due diligence that seek to identify the impacts of a specific product, service, or activity – particularly those that are new and broadly impactful.
Using the UNGPs for guidance, Foley Hoag spent a year interviewing stakeholders within the company, government, and civil society organizations; researching Microsoft’s products and services; and scouring the public domain, to advise Microsoft regarding the most salient positive and negative human rights impacts of certain products licensed to law enforcement agencies. Foley Hoag also provided Microsoft with recommendations to mitigate potentially adverse impacts.
In Foley Hoag’s view, the HRIA presents not only Microsoft, but the technology industry writ large with a valuable blueprint by which to consider the myriad ways that technology can impact stakeholders’ lives. Technology benefits society in many ways – including with respect to improvements in medicine, education, and public safety. Technology companies should also, however, consider how to mitigate ways that their products could lead to harms, including by having an open dialogue with members of civil society and creating robust internal governance structures to design technologies that will augment respect for human rights.
We commend Microsoft for undertaking this effort and for its transparency in publishing the HRIA on its website. A link to that Assessment is here: Human Rights Impact Assessment of Microsoft’s Technologies Licensed to U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies