The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday announced a landmark five-year partnership with Microsoft Corp. As part of the agreement, Microsoft will provide a grant of $5 million (USD) to support the work of the UN Human Rights Office. This represents an unprecedented level of support from a private-sector organization.
A particular area of focus for the partnership will be the development and use of advanced technology designed to better predict, analyze and respond to critical human rights situations, which currently appear not only to be proliferating in many parts of the world — including areas previously viewed as stable — but also growing in complexity.
The new partnership builds on a longstanding relationship between the UN Human Rights Office and Microsoft that is based on two shared ideas. The first is a commitment to ensuring technology plays a positive role in helping to promote and protect human rights. The second is a recognition of the need for the private sector to play a bigger part in helping to advance the cause of human rights globally.
“As a global company that sees the problems of the world, we believe that we have a responsibility to help solve them,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “We have an untapped opportunity to use the power of technology to collect data, analyze that data and equip the United Nations to advance human rights around the world.”
Technology for human rights
While in some cases technology may contribute to human rights challenges, it also has an important role to play in tackling abuses. The grant from Microsoft will help establish technology that has a positive impact, for example by developing and deploying new technology solutions specifically designed to advance the mission of the UN Human Rights Office and protect human rights.
One example is Rights View, an information “dashboard” that will allow UN human rights staff to aggregate large quantities of internal and external data on specific countries and types of rights violations in real time. It will help facilitate analysis, ensure early warning of emerging critical issues and provide data to guide responses. This tool, powered by cloud computing and big data analysis, is just one example of the potential for technology to be a force for good.
Business and human rights
Microsoft will also work with the UN Human Rights Office to raise awareness of the role that companies can and should play in driving respect for human rights and to promote more responsible business conduct across the world. Microsoft will work closely with the Office to help promote broader adoption and implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The UN Guiding Principles provide a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.
Microsoft will also provide support for human rights advocacy and outreach campaigns through concrete support for the work of the UN Human Rights Office in key areas like freedom of expression, data protection and privacy, and inclusion. This includes direct support for the development and promotion of corporate principles for tackling LGBTI discrimination in the workplace in line with international human rights standards.
“This could be a truly groundbreaking agreement,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “We live in a rapidly evolving age, where technology can either be used to solve human rights problems or misused to erode human rights. Similarly, companies can infringe people’s rights, or they can be a major progressive force.”
“The private sector has an essential role to play in advancing human rights, and this partnership with Microsoft demonstrates how we can join forces in a constructive way,” Zeid said. “I hope this is just the beginning of something much bigger: that it helps stimulate a broad movement by the private sector to stand up for human rights. Increased support from major companies in the technology sector and other fields can clearly make a critical difference.”
Published on Microsoft's website on May 16, 2017.