Protect, Respect and Remedy: Understanding Human Rights in the Mobile Sector

Protect, Respect and Remedy:  Understanding Human Rights in the Mobile Sector

It’s almost ten years since the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were launched defining businesses’ responsibilities concerning human rights. Known as the Ruggie Principles, they outline the duty of states to Protect human rights; companies to Respect human rights; and for effective systems of Remedy for people who have suffered human rights abuses.

Since their publication, corporate awareness and action on human rights have been growing. The mobile industry is no exception and the last decade has seen operators starting to get to grips with human rights risks in their operations and value chains.

How is the GSMA helping?

While some of our members have mature processes to manage human rights, others are starting on the journey, and this is where the GSMA aims to help. Our approach is to share knowledge and sector insights with members, highlight sector best practice and also provide practical guidance to help inspire action.

In March this year – just as coronavirus lockdown measures were expanding around the world – we released the first in a series of human rights guidance documents. ‘An introduction to human rights for the mobile sector’ provides a high-level summary of global human rights frameworks, the Ruggie Principles and the most important, or salient, human rights issues for the sector.

Identifying human rights risks

What is interesting and particularly relevant to our sector is the breadth of salient human rights issues across operators’ value chains – from the treatment and conditions of people working in the supply chain, to how operators’ employees are treated, and the protection of customers’ human rights, including privacy and child safety online.

The level of interest and desire to move forwards was very apparent in July when over 50 people representing members across the world attended our first human rights webinar. Clearly, many operators recognise the importance of managing human rights effectively.

Creating a framework to manage human rights

So what is needed for a mobile operator (or any company for that matter) to start understanding and addressing their human rights risks?

Although the exact approach will differ from operator-to-operator, the Guiding Principles outline a three-step process for companies to respect human rights:

1. Create a policy commitment to respect human rights. In practice, this means gathering a team to draft a policy with wide-ranging input from multiple functions and regions. The policy should commit to international human rights frameworks and be approved by executive management or the Board. Finally, it should be made publicly available and be reviewed and updated regularly.

2. Conduct a human rights due diligence process to identify and assess potential and actual human rights impacts associated with company operations and business relationships. The process should integrate findings into the business to prevent, mitigate and address any impacts on human rights.

In practice, this is a more detailed and involved process than setting policy. It requires a human rights impact assessment to review risks and impacts across the whole value chain and uses stakeholder engagement to help understand the issues and risks. It also needs to establish internal processes and training to manage and reduce the human rights risks identified. This includes establishing suitable controls and audit processes to ensure the effectiveness of the processes in place. Finally, human rights risks and impacts need to be measured using relevant KPIs and reported regularly.

3. Create a remediation process that establishes grievance mechanisms for stakeholders whose human rights may have been negatively impacted by company activities. Despite an operator’s best efforts, human rights impacts can happen. Where impacts are identified, companies need to provide a swift response and access to remediation through legitimate processes.

In simple terms, remediation is about creating ways to receive concerns and complaints from stakeholders, investigate them and provide resolution. Processes and systems supporting remediation include whistleblowing lines and procedures, customer service training and escalation, and resources for internal audits and investigations. Ultimately, a remedy can include apologies, restitution, rehabilitation, financial or non-financial compensation and sanctions.

Moving forward

Following our introductory guidance, the GSMA launched a second guidance document in June, ‘Human rights guidance for the mobile industry’. The guide is available on the GSMA website and gives detail on the sector’s most important human rights issues. These include privacy and freedom of expression; child rights and safety online; child labour; forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking; other labour standards; conflict minerals; and community impacts from building and maintaining infrastructure.

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