Celebrating Human Rights Day
Human Rights Day is on December 10th, and I wanted to take a moment to outline what this means and why it’s important. Human Rights are rights inherent to us as human beings, based on moral principles such as dignity and fairness - they are universal and egalitarian and not granted by any government or authority. The concept of the protection of Human Rights has existed in some degree across geographies and cultures over the ages mostly around the premise of, e.g., treat people with the respect you expect to receive, or fulfilment of duty to one’s neighbor. Practically all societies whether in oral or written tradition, have had systems of propriety and justice.
There have been many precursors to the UN Declaration of Human Rights as we know today, with varying attempts across countries and legal traditions to document ways of asserting individual rights. These include for example, Magna Carta in 1215 (the Great Charter) which put into writing that the King and government are not above the law and aimed to guarantee the right of individuals and others through the ages. Other countries around the world have also examined the relationship between the rights of the individual and the state. When looking back however, many of these examples excluded women, various ethnicities, and other groups.
In 1948, after two World Wars had happened in fairly quick succession, fundamental human rights (like the right to life, liberty and security of person to name a few) were first set out and agreed upon internationally in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). Different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world participated and it has been translated into over 500 languages. The UNDHR paved the way for multiple other treaties concerning human rights.
These principles remain critical today. As multinational companies grew and evolved, questions arose about the responsibility and role of companies to respect human rights especially when operating in multiple jurisdictions around the world. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), published by the United Nations in 2011, aim to set a framework for businesses to prevent and address the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity. Nokia committed to the UNGPs in 2011. I’ve written previously about the UNGPs providing a framework which has become a de-facto standard: protect, respect and remedy. I’ll therefore focus in here on more recent approaches that continue that tradition.
Now, at the time of writing, there are a variety of laws being worked on and passed that aim to codify some of the elements set forth in the UNGPs, and to anchor human rights and environmental considerations in companies’ operations and corporate governance. One such overarching example currently under construction is the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). This aims to mandate a corporate due diligence duty to identify, mitigate and account for adverse human rights and environmental impacts, and if those impacts are ongoing - to end them.
At Nokia, our Code of Conduct reflects our values through clear and simple direction for all our employees and business partners and defines the principles of ethical and compliant business practices. Our public human rights policy covers our most salient risk which is the potential misuse of our technology. That risk applies to our industry as a whole as well. Our ambition is to take a proactive and values-driven role in driving responsible business practices internally and in our value chain. Responsible business is therefore part of how we do business. The intent is that this starts from the top all the way down and is supported throughout so that processes are institutionalized be it human rights, labor rights, inclusion, and diversity – mechanisms exist throughout the company and the mentality of the people within it. However, given that human rights, technology, and regulation are continuing to evolve, this process is not static and we continuously work to improve it. The key is to ensure that our processes are robust, and well understood, as well as transparent. This transparency comes in part from measurements and audits from external experts, but also through our interactions with multi stakeholder groups like UN Global Compact, and the Responsible Business Alliance.
I can’t draw a straight line from the past to the future, but I can look at one area of interest that may affect how the future pans out. Building on our work with multi-stakeholder groups, like the Global Network Initiative, Responsible Business Alliance, UN Global Compact, continued dialogue is a necessary part in ensuring that we look at the risks and opportunities ahead. That is the only way that we can see more pieces of the puzzle. So let me finish by highlighting the work that my colleagues in Nokia Bell Labs have been working on. Here, Nokia has defined six principles, or pillars, that should guide all AI research and development in the future. We believe these principles should be applied the moment any new AI solution is conceived and then enforced throughout its development, implementation, and operation stages. As we continue to work in multistakeholder groups on some of the most pressing issues of the day, it seems worthwhile to examine if there are other areas in which research and development, technology, and human rights can intersect in a way that builds on the legacy of what has come before.