One of the largest companies in the world, Microsoft is a global leader in software, services, devices and solutions that aim to help, in the words of its mission statement, to “empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more”. With such a bold purpose, we are pleased that the company seems to take its human rights obligations seriously.
Microsoft faces a host of complex issues. These include protecting the rights of its customers and users of its products to privacy and to freedom of expression, at the same time as protecting the public and, in particular, the most vulnerable from crime, such as terrorism, child abuse and human trafficking. Other challenges are to minimise the negative human rights consequences in its hardware supply chain and dealing with the implications for human rights of new technology, such as machine learning.
What we did
While we have been in dialogue on human rights with the company for a number of years, our engagement has been particularly intensive during 2016. In the first half of 2016, we had a discussion about the company’s and technology industry’s legal battle concerning the right of privacy and pushing back on unlawful requests from government and law enforcement agencies for data to fight crime, including terrorism. We also co-signed an investor letter to Microsoft and held an initial discussion concerning child labour in the company’s cobalt supply chain in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In addition, we participated in a human rights workshop in New York sponsored by the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights and worked with the company and its peers in developing key performance indicators for human rights in the technology sector. Furthermore, we met the company’s head of responsibility and data ethicist at its headquarters to continue our dialogue. As one of only two investor voices, we participated in a stakeholder workshop in the third quarter of the year, convened by the company to provide input into its 2020 human rights roadmap. After receiving the company’s response to the letter, we also took part in a joint investor call on cobalt in the DRC.
What we found
The depth and breadth of our interactions with the company on human rights in 2016 continue to demonstrate Microsoft’s concern for human rights. We are delighted that it has found time to discuss with us in detail the complexities of the issues it faces and how it works hard to minimise the adverse human rights effects of its activities and products and, importantly, to protect and improve the human rights outcomes of those who are affected by the company in any way. We are pleased that Microsoft, who we believe is a leader in human rights, has spent so much time seeking our views and explaining its efforts. In turn, we are encouraging other companies to demonstrate a similar openness and willingness to address human rights.
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