16 Apr 2019

Human Rights Conference - key themes and write-up

Summary of discussions and key takeaways from the Human Rights & Tech Supply Chains conference

Two weeks ago, techUK held a conference looking at the human rights risks in tech supply chains with over twenty speakers from across the tech industry, government and third sector. The day saw several panels and presentations on what the risks are now and, in the future, how to respond when abuses are found, the tools and support available to businesses and case studies on how firms approached due diligence and embedded human rights into their corporate culture.

For those who couldn't make it you can see a detailed summary of all the discussions here.

techUK | Human rights in tech supply chains conference

The key themes and takeaways were:

  • Human rights by design: It is important to embed human rights across the entire organisation with training, resources and empowered staff. This must be overseen by a senior leader with direct responsibility for ensuring that the strongest possible respect for human rights exists at all levels.
  • No-one should get ahead through exploitation: There is no competitive advantage to not act on human rights risks. All firms have a responsibility to act and competitors in all sectors are working together.
  • No single operator can act alone: Leverage on suppliers and getting a wider understanding of supply chain risks means tech companies should work together to share best practice and resources (for example on auditing).
  • Acting locally: Trying to solve issues in Asia from the UK or Europe can only have limited success. Companies should use locally based auditors, partner with local NGOs and work with governments to maximise impact.
  • Audits are important: There is a tendency to discredit audits, but they remain an important tool for companies, particularly when initially engaging with a supplier and for communicating progress within the business. Worker’s voice technologies, innovative apps and other emerging technologies are likely to play a more significant role in the future.
  • Supplier engagement works better than disengagement: Speaker after speaker reiterated the importance of working with suppliers to help them understand the issues and put them right. Disengagement should be a last resort given it could make people destitute and won’t resolve issues found.
  • Get help: There are a plethora of resources, NGOs and support for companies seeking to start out on human rights, by helping businesses understand, mitigate and remediate human rights abused that occur in supply chains.
  • Legislation and stakeholder pressure are driving change: The increasing amount of legislation worldwide has moved issues like modern slavery and conflict minerals up the agenda. Firms also get pressure from their customers, staff and stakeholders to do more on human rights in a transparent way.
  • Tech is a tool and not a replacement for business processes: As in most other contexts, technology is an aid (indeed a powerful one) that can make due diligence more efficient and enable better supply chain transparency, but not the answer in itself. Technology is best used when supporting robust and clear business processes and policies.

This is an increasingly major issue for all firms and if you want to learn more about what techUK is doing with business and human rights we recommend joining the techUK Sustainable Supply Chain Group or getting in touch using the contact details below.