It’s Friday and time for another overview of developments in the field of business and human rights that we’ve been monitoring.
This week’s post includes: an overview of amicus briefs in the Apple case; the arrest of a Facebook executive in Brazil; and a statement from the U.S. Government on its human rights “commitments and pledges,” including its forthcoming adoption of a National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.
- As noted previously, Apple made headlines when it announced that it would not comply with a federal court order requiring the company to assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. As Apple’s legal battle continues, companies including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Cisco, and Yahoo! have signed on to amicus briefs in support of Apple’s position. A blog post prepared by Yahoo! set forth the rationale of many of the companies: “This case isn’t simply about letting the FBI pick the lock to a dead terrorist’s phone. It’s about whether governments can conscript private companies to disable security features built into their devices.” A full list of the amicus briefs filed in support of Apple is available here.
- On March 1, a senior Facebook executive was arrested in Brazil after the company allegedly failed to respond to a court order requiring the production of certain user data related to the WhatsApp accounts of individuals being investigated for drug trafficking and other crimes. As with the Apple case, the arrest by Brazilian authorities highlights the challenges faced by technology companies seeking to navigate government demands for user data in diverse jurisdictions. The Facebook executive was quickly released after a court determination that he had not been personally named in the relevant legal proceedings.
- The U.N. Guiding Principles Report Framework, developed by the Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (“RAFI”), recently released a video providing guidance to companies on how to identify and prioritize their most salient human rights impacts for management and reporting purposes. As noted in the video, companies should seek to identify and prioritize their response to the human rights impacts of their operations that are the most severe, the broadest in scope, and the most irremediable.
- On February 29, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre released its annual corporate legal accountability briefing. The annual briefing presents a global overview of the ways in which governments and litigants have sought to hold companies accountable for the human rights impact of their operations during the previous year. The growing potential for litigation pursuant to transparency statutes is highlighted in this year’s briefing as is a number of cases focused on cross-border environmental harm in Southeast Asia.
- On February 29, the U.S. Department of State released a statement setting forth the U.S. government’s “human rights commitments and pledges.” The statement was released in the context of the U.S. Government’s decision to seek election to the U.N. Human Rights Council in November 2016. In the statement, the U.S. Government observes that it “is committed to continuing its leadership role in promoting business and human rights globally through multilateral fora” and notes its forthcoming adoption of a National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct, which “seeks to promote responsible business conduct consistent with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.” The reiteration of these commitments may get lost in the fray of an election year, but the potential long-term impact of U.S. leadership in this area is significant.