Applying Technology to Uphold Human Rights

Each month, we will highlight a recent development, initiative or trend in the technology and SDGs landscape. In this month’s story, we look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Technology plays an important role in achieving the ideals enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We explore three applications of technology to address critical human rights needs and opportunities. 

More than 90% of the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets are linked to international human rights and labour standards, making it vital to take a rights-based approach to achieving the Goals. 

Using data to understand and anticipate human rights risks

Relevant data collection and management is crucial to anticipate and prevent human rights abuses from occurring, but it can be challenging to make data on human rights readily available.

The Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative is the first global data hub on human trafficking, aiming to break down information-sharing barriers and provide up to date, reliable data on human trafficking. This will strengthen and empower institutions to eradicate crimes of trafficking and exploitation. The UN is also partnering with the World Identity Network (WIN) to develop a blockchain-supported identity programme to maintain identity records and spot fake IDs in an effort to curb child trafficking.   

Data analysis can detect patterns and forecast suspicious behaviours or human rights violations. Human Rights Watch collates and analyses satellite imagery to identify and expose human rights abuses, enabling the quick mobilisation of resources. The organisation recently used satellite imagery to expose abuses against Rohingya homes and villages in Myanmar. 

As the availability of data grows, data mining algorithms can help to process and prioritise it. Amnesty International uses digitized data from their Urgent Action alerts to predict which types of incident might escalate and prevent future human rights violations.

Improving due diligence across complex global supply chains

Human rights needs can represent significant supply chain risks for companies, and consumer and regulatory pressures are growing on companies to be able to trace products from their origins through supply chains. Due diligence of supply chains is essential to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for the ways in which a company addresses its adverse human rights impacts. 

Technology can improve understanding of labour rights and supplier practices across the value chain. Machine learning can analyse vast amounts of data from auditing reports detailing working conditions within supplier firms. Algorithms can then analyse this data and offer summary judgements of current and potential risks, to inform decision making. In addition, open traceability protocols are being developed to assess whether or not goods have been sourced ethically. 

Other technologies amplify the voices of workers and connect companies with people employed in their supply chains. The social enterprise LaborVoices uses smart phones to crowdsource information enabling companies to monitor the impact of their suppliers on the rights of workers. The Responsible Labor Initiative, supported by Apple and Walmart, among others, uses mobile technology for worker surveys, training and helplines. Digital applications are also available for workers to create and maintain job logs, helping them track their wages and compare them to the average for jobs in the area, thus helping protect them from theft or wilful underpayment from an employer.

Empowering citizens and holding officials to account

Digital technologies can make human rights related information visible and accessible to the mass public, particularly in poor and marginalised communities.

mHub is a digital platform which promotes and supports human rights in Malawi, in particular around reducing violence against women and ending child marriage. It provides a platform for citizens to report in real time on human rights violations and abuse using SMS, web and social media. The platform links citizens directly with relevant service providers such as lawyers, victim support or community groups, as well as providing information on human rights issues including LGBTi, Albino attacks and domestic violence to improve understanding of when rights are being violated. 

2030Vision partner UNICEF have developed a mobile based technology platform, U-Report , to empower young people by connecting them to information about sexual and reproductive health, as well as trained councillors. To date, more than 6 million young people have signed up globally, and over 30,000 personalised messages are delivered each month in Mozambique alone.

Digital technology can also be used to help unearth and thwart corruption thanks to open access to the relevant data, as in the case of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project’s Investigative Dashboard for journalists investigating cases of corruption or money laundering; or in the case of I Paid A Bribe, an Indian website crowdsourcing stories of bribery to track corruption and strengthen citizens’ engagement. 

Developing technology solutions through collaboration

These are just a handful of opportunities for technology to promote human rights. Other applications can accelerate universal digital identity, protect land rights, and promote access to health and education. 

The development of these technologies must involve collaboration  across corporations, suppliers, policymakers, unions and NGOs. Transparency is critical to empower all stakeholders to collectively ‘teach’ these technologies about human and labour rights.

2030Vision provides a platform for collaboration to support the application of technology to address the most critical human rights challenges facing the world today. 

For further examples of ICT-based solutions that address human rights, we recommend reading 2030 Vision partner Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative’s (GESI’s) recent #EnablingRights report .

Collaborating to achieve the goals

Although these recent developments are encouraging, there is clearly much more we must do if we are to make our current food system sustainable by 2030.  
At 2030Vision, we believe that collaboration between businesses, NGOs and governments will be critical way to accelerate and scale technological progress towards the sustainable development goals. 2030Vision provides a forum in which some of these discussions can take place. 

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