For further information on the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights please visit https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/2019ForumBHR.aspx

For further information on the work of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights please visit https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx 
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Tuesday, November 26 • 16:40 - 18:00
What does accountability and remedy look like in the case of adverse human rights impacts from digital technologies?

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Session organized by the Office of the High Commissiones for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Webcast of the session:
Meeting link
Meeting number: 841 558 315
Password: smgwPdAP

Session description
The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) stipulate the duties and responsibilities of states and business respectively to provide access to effective remedy for human rights harm by business (UNGPs Pillar III). 

States not only have obligations to ensure accountability and remedy for human rights violations committed by state actors, they must also take appropriate steps to ensure that victims of business-related human rights abuse have access to effective remedy. Depending on the nature of a particular case or situation, victims of adverse human rights impacts from digital technologies should be able to achieve remedy through effective judicial or non-judicial state-based grievance mechanisms.

As far as companies are concerned, the UNGPs recognize that when business enterprises are involved in human rights abuses, those harmed must have access to effective remedy. Ensuring access to effective remedy – regardless of the mechanism – can be challenging no matter the industry or operating context. When it comes to the development and use of digital technologies, certain seemingly unique issues arise, for instance in relation to adverse impacts resulting from decisions made by machines and algorithms rather than humans; the need for mechanisms to potentially address the grievances of millions of adversely affected rights-holders; and safeguarding challenges due to the fact that dozens of companies are linked to abuse via the interaction of different technology products and services.

This session will explore issues related to the technology sector and access to effective remedy through the use of both State-based (judicial or non-judicial) and non-State-based grievance mechanisms. In particular, panelists and participants will be invited to share the challenges associated with the use and administration of such mechanisms, ways for overcoming these challenges as well as ideas and lessons learned for enhancing the effectiveness of these mechanisms.

Session objectives
    • Discuss the existing State-based remedial avenues in case of adverse human rights impact from digital technologies;
    • Explore the different ways that technology companies can and should establish or participate in private grievance mechanisms in order to meet their responsibilities under the UNGPs; Discuss the challenges and opportunities involved in this field;
    • Discuss the practical steps that technology companies can take to ensure rights-holders have meaningful access to remedy in a way that accounts for the unique challenges these companies face; and
    • Explore the role States can play to facilitate access to non-State-based grievance mechanisms dealing with human rights harms relating to digital technologies.

Key discussion questions 
  • To what extent do technology companies administer or participate in private grievance mechanisms? 
  • How well are technology companies responding to the challenges set out in the UN Guiding Principles as regards access to remedy for human rights-related harms?  What has been done so far?  What still needs to be done?
  • What models of grievance mechanisms are technology companies using?  What innovations have been tried or are in the pipeline?
  • What kinds of human rights issues are people raising with technology companies through private grievance mechanisms? And how are companies responding?
  • Have there been sectoral or geographical variations in the way technology companies are responding?  If so, what is driving these variations?
  • What collaborative initiatives are in place to provide remedies to affected people, to help companies identify systemic or industry-wide problems, or to formulate joint responses to broader challenges?  How well are these working?  What still needs to be done?
  • What is the role of States in supporting remedial efforts by technology companies? In what ways and circumstance can State regulation provide drivers for change?

Format of the session
First part of the session: a moderated discussion with panelists speaking to the issue of State-based and non-State-based grievance mechanisms in the tech sector from the perspective of a Government’s representative, a tech company, a multi-stakeholder initiative, a rights-holder and an academic institution. Following the presentations, the floor will be open to a short Q&A from the audience.

Second part of the session: a fictional case study will be screened (consisting of a small fact pattern and some questions). Each of the panelists will share some preliminary thoughts to kick off the discussion and the audience will be invited to speak to the case study from the floor.

OHCHR has recently launched the B-Tech Project, which seeks to provide authoritative guidance and resources to enhance the quality of implementation of the UNGPs with respect to the technology space. The B-Tech project will be looking at four inter-related focus areas: Addressing Human Rights Risks in Business Models (Focus Area 1); Human Rights Due Diligence and End-Use (Focus Area 2); Accountability and Remedy (Focus Area 3 and the Forum session’s specific focus); and “A Smart Mix of Measures:” Exploring regulatory and policy responses to human rights challenges linked to digital technologies (Focus Area 4).

The session’s output will also feed into phase III of OHCHR’s Accountability and Remedy Project on non-State-based grievances mechanisms.

avatar for Lene Wendland

Lene Wendland

Chief, Business and Human Rights, OHCHR
Lene Wendland is Chief of the Business and Human Rights Unit in UN Human Rights. She was part of the team of former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, and contributed to the development and drafting of the UN Guiding... Read More →

avatar for Rebecca MacKinnon

Rebecca MacKinnon

Director, New America
Rebecca MacKinnon directs the Ranking Digital Rights project at New America. (See rankingdigitalrights.org) A 2019-2020 University of California Free Speech and Civic Engagement Fellow, she is author of Consent of the Networked (2012), co-founder of Global Voices, a founding member... Read More →
avatar for Nikolaj Christian Borreschmidt

Nikolaj Christian Borreschmidt

Head of section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Tech Department
Nikolaj works in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark as tech advisor to Denmark's Tech Ambassador, Casper Klynge. Nikolaj has previously served as Research and Innovation Attaché at the Permanent Representation of Denmark to the European Union, and holds a degree in EU International... Read More →
avatar for Sarah Joseph

Sarah Joseph

Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University
They should talk to me about social media and human rights, and also the need for "hard law" obligations wrt business and human rights
avatar for Laura Okkonen

Laura Okkonen

Senior Human Rights Manager, Vodafone
A Business & Human Rights subject matter expert working in the ICT sector. A Finn based in the UK.
avatar for Théo Jaekel

Théo Jaekel

Corporate Responsibility Expert - Business and Human Rights, Ericsson
Legal counsel responsible for human rights at group level, across Ericsson's value chain. This includes issues related to responsible sourcing and the end use of Ericsson technology.
avatar for Laura O'Brien

Laura O'Brien

Senior UN Advocacy Officer, Access Now
Laura is the U.N. Advocacy Officer Access Now. She joins Access Now after completing her LLM at Columbia Law School where she graduated with honors as a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and with a Parker School Certificate of Achievement in International and Comparative Law. During her... Read More →

Tuesday November 26, 2019 16:40 - 18:00 CET