Collective Learning to Advance Human Rights Leadership in Technology Regulation

November 15, 2023



Article One Briefing Note

Human rights expectations for companies in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector are rapidly evolving. Many industry-leading ICT companies have spent years building out programs to advance human rights, responsible technology, and ethical AI. These strategies have been informed by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and have delivered concrete and, at times, transformative improvements in technology products, operations, and their supply chains. 

However, at the same time, commitment to human rights and the UNGPs varies considerably across industries and companies. The 2022 Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, for example, found that nearly fifty percent of the world’s largest companies “failed to show any evidence of identifying or mitigating human rights issues in their supply chains.” Even when leading technology companies have embraced human rights and the UNGPs, these commitments are not yet consistently informing decision-making in ways that deliver rights-respecting outcomes. 

To advance corporate respect for human rights, lawmakers around the world are turning to regulation to mandate new corporate expectations for human rights. This is particularly true in Europe, where multiple emerging strands of regulation will impact ICT companies, including regulation focused on mandatory human rights due diligence, digital platforms, and artificial intelligence. However, regulation is by no means only a European phenomenon, and there are relevant regulations and proposals in countries as diverse as China, Brazil, Canada, and Turkey. As these regulatory expectations crystalize in ways that are likely to support as well as diverge from the UNGPs, companies must navigate a rapidly evolving world.  

Since 2018, Article One’s Business Roundtable on Human Rights & AI has convened industry leaders to share common human rights challenges, effective practices, and priorities for the future. The theme for this year’s Roundtable was Leveraging Emerging Technology Regulation to Advance Human Rights. Companies came together in both May and October to discuss emerging technology regulations, including the proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, Digital Services Act, and the proposed A.I. Act.  

To deepen collective understanding of strategies to advance human rights in regulation within this year’s Roundtable, Article One interviewed staff from nearly 20 industry-leading companies to better understand how ICT companies are approaching the shift from voluntary human rights norms to hard laws. We spoke to staff working to advance human rights within digital platforms, AI development, and multinational technology companies. 

We are delighted to share the findings of these interviews in our new briefing paper, Advancing Human Rights Leadership in Technology Regulation. This briefing paper explores the perspectives of staff and teams focused on human rights within companies navigating emerging regulation impacting the ICT sector. The paper begins with a summary of the emerging regulatory human rights context facing ICT companies. Drawing on interviews, the paper then explores key challenges and opportunities with this evolution as described by teams working on human rights and ethics within ICT companies. The paper concludes with emerging recommendations and opportunities for human rights regulation of the ICT sector. 

The next generation of corporate human rights leadership will require navigating new regulatory obligations. Our interviews with corporate human rights leaders revealed some uncertainty, questions, and challenges associated with the emergence of these new requirements. However, at the same time, we heard significant optimism and numerous concrete opportunities for companies to mature their approach to human rights by centering human rights in regulatory compliance strategies.  

If you are interested in advancing human rights in regulatory compliance or learning about the Roundtable on AI and Human Rights, please reach out: