New guidance document on addressing digital technologies in NAPs on Business and Human Rights

30 Jul 2020

Global Partners Digital (GPD) and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) have jointly developed a new guidance document to assist state actors and other stakeholders in the development of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (NAPs) in the specific context of the tech sector. 

NAPs are policy documents in which a government articulates priorities and actions it will take to protect human rights from business-related activities. As of 1 June 2020, NAPs have been adopted in 24 states. However, few of these NAPs currently address the specific impacts on human rights by the activities of tech companies—even though, as the current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, the potential scope of these impacts is very wide. Tech companies can play a positive role in enabling the exercise of human rights, by—for example—enabling remote access to education and health services; but they can also pose risks to them, through internet shutdowns, blocking access to information, privacy breaches, and the development of artificial intelligence solutions with discriminatory biases. 

The guidance document therefore aims to remedy the current lack of attention to the tech sector within NAPs. It offers tailored advice to states that are engaged in the process of developing NAPs, including: an analysis of the relationship between the tech sector and human rights; an overview of the tech sector’s adverse impacts on the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and non-discrimination, and the key relevant policy and regulatory trends; and a baseline assessment tool with questions aimed at identifying human rights gaps, as well as tech sector-related human rights impacts that could be addressed in an NAP.

Commenting on the need for specific NAP guidance on the tech sector, Elin Wrzoncki, the DIHR’s Director of the Human Rights and Business department, said: 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought even greater attention to the harmful impacts of digital technologies, and the responsibilities of states and the private sector. But until now, there has been no thorough guidance on how to address this in the development and implementation of NAPs.”

The guidance document serves as a thematic supplement to a broader toolkit developed by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable and the Danish Institute for Human Rights on NAPs (the ICAR-DIHR Toolkit). It is primarily targeted towards states that are engaged in the process of initiation, consultation, drafting, implementation or updating of NAPs. However, it may also be useful for civil society organisations, tech companies and other stakeholders engaged in NAP processes.

Commenting on the report, Charles Bradley, Executive Director of GPD, said: 

“National Action Plans (NAPs) can be a powerful tool in ensuring businesses operate in a socially responsible way. But, so far, NAPs have notably failed to adequately address the specific risks to human rights posed by the tech sector. We hope this report will begin to change this—by giving policymakers the guidance they need to create NAPs fit to address the challenges we face today”

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