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Yahoo! Human Rights Program

Earlier this month Yahoo! launched a new Business & Human Rights Program, intended to formalize its commitment to human rights, starting with full-fledged support at the highest levels of the company. The program also aims to build a culture within the company to identify and manage human rights risk associated with delivery of its services in difficult markets.

Yahoo! learned the hard way that inattention to human rights can have devasting consequences. While some may see the new program as no more than an effort to restore the company’s reputation, we strongly applaud this new effort. Companies have an obligation to respect human rights and rigorous due diligence and risk assessment are the right place to start. Recently, John Ruggie, the U.N. Special Reporter on Business and Human Rights released a proposed framework for Business and Human Rights which strongly endorses this approach.

The report notes “[t]o discharge the responsibility to respect requires due diligence. This step describes the steps a company must take to become aware of, prevent and address adverse human rights impacts.” It is not enough, the report notes, to do good deeds to compensate for human rights harms elsewhere. “Companies must take proactive steps to understand how existing and proposed activities may affect human rights… and should refine their plans to address and avoid potential negative human rights impacts on an ongoing basis,” the report says.

With a Senate hearing coming up next week on the Internet and Human rights that will put the Internet industry in the spotlight once again, the report provides a sensible path forward for policymakers and companies.

As it’s described, the new Yahoo! program seems spot on with Ruggie’s recommendations, and while it is hard not to think about what might have been if such a program were in place several years ago, the company is clearly on the right path now. We hope that other companies in the technology sector see fit to follow Yahoo!’s lead.

Yahoo has been an active participant in the multi-stakeholder process that CDT has been co-facilitating with Business for Social Responsibility to develop a set of principles and supporting processes to guide the ICT sector facing privacy and free expression challenges in a growing number of countries. While that process–which includes our colleagues at the Berkman Center and a diverse group of human rights groups, academic institutions and social investment funds–is not yet complete, Yahoo! has clearly integrated what it has learned in that process into the design of its Business and Human Rights Program.