Fast Forward Sixty-four Years

Fast Forward Sixty-four Years

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Dan Bross, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft

Sixty-four years ago last week, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was awaiting consideration and adoption by the United Nations General Assembly and the horrors of World War II were ever present. Since being adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration has served as the foundation for defining, protecting and advancing human rights.  The global human rights agenda marked another milestone in 2011 when the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

As a student of history and political science, December 1948 was front of mind last week as I attended the first UN Forum on Business and Human Rights at the Palais des Nations in Geneva which brought together nearly 1000 individuals from 85 countries. The purpose – to discuss trends and challenges in implementing the Guiding Principles and to promote dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights. If only the authors of the Universal Declaration could have been with us to witness and participate in a broad civil society discussion on the Guiding Principles “protect, respect and remedy” framework. I was honored and humbled to be asked to attend and present at the Forum and participate in a session panel discussion, led by University of Zurich Professor Christine Kaufmann, on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and share Microsoft’s experience to date in implementing the Guiding Principles

While Microsoft has a long history of working in cooperation with human rights groups and others in the ICT sector to tackle important human rights issues, the Guiding Principles provided the impetus and framework for the development and issuance, in July 2012, of Microsoft’s Global Human Rights Statement. During my remarks, I pointed out that our Statement reinforces (rather than replaces) our existing policies in areas such as privacy, equality and labor rights and sets forth four key beliefs to underpin Microsoft’s global strategy and approach to human rights:. 

  • Power of Technology: Like most technologies, ICT products can be used for good or ill. Microsoft believes that government, civil society and business have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to apply the power of technology to enable individuals to achieve their full potential in accordance with fundamental human rights.
  • A Global Approach: Business approaches to human rights should be based on internationally recognized standards, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • Engagement: Business can most effectively respect human rights through presence in, rather than absence from, countries that present significant human rights risks.
  • Good Governance and the Rule of Law: Microsoft believes that businesses respect human rights by modeling and promoting good governance and the rule of law around the world.

As I shared with session attendees, the codification of our Statement – while important – is the first stage in our implementation of the Principles.  For example, Principles 17 through 21 outline a corporation’s responsibility to carry out human rights due diligence and we are currently working the BSR to develop an assessment approach based on our commitments and responsibilities.

Just as Microsoft’s Statement is but a first step in our internal process and discussions, so too was last week’s UN Forum.  While discussions among participants will surely continue, the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Annual Meeting in Davos provides a particularly unique opportunity to advance multi-stakeholder conversations on the Principles “protect, respect and remedy” framework.  The Forum has demonstrated over the last 42years its ability to advance discourse and share learnings across all sectors of civil society and I encourage Annual Meeting participants to demonstrate their individual commitment to human rights and pick up in Davos where we left off in Geneva.

 

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