The increasingly widespread media coverage of surveillance and spyware technologies used to track ethnic and racial minorities and immigrants and surveil journalists, human rights activists and other prominent figures has put a spotlight on the role of private equity firms, including venture capital (VC) investors, in financing human rights abuses in the United States and abroad.
By providing critical funding for technology start-ups, VC firms play a crucial gatekeeper role, deciding which companies make it onto the market and ultimately, which technologies shape our lives. This has far-reaching consequences for human rights. While digital technologies present opportunities for economic growth, environmental protection and the realization of human rights, such innovation can be associated with widespread infringements on privacy and free expression, enable the proliferation of hate speech fueling offline violence, and deepen inequalities, including through “algorithmic discrimination”— affecting people in the job market, accessing loans and public services, and in the criminal justice system.
Despite these societal harms, a July report released by Amnesty International found that “the vast majority of the world’s most influential venture capitalist firms operate with little to no consideration of the human rights impact of their decisions.” The report concludes that “the absence of human rights policies and due diligence processes amongst VC firms has significant consequences for human rights,” citing a range of examples, such as investments in companies that provide support for the repression of the Uyghur population in China.
These findings run contrary to the global expectation that businesses of all sectors and sizes, including VC firms, take the necessary steps to ensure that their business activities and value chains respect internationally recognized human rights. Unanimously endorsed by governments in the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) are the authoritative global framework outlining the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights.
Read the full article about tech start-ups and human rights by Paloma Muñoz Quick at GreenBiz.
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