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Business and Human Rights: An Industry-Wide Approach to Employing the UN Guiding Principles in the Nigerian Tech Sector

Nigeria is arguably the biggest technology market in Africa with approximately 140 million internet users as of December 2021 and about 85 active tech hubs according to the 2019 Research conducted by Briter Bridges and GSMA. This places the country as one of the premier tech investment destinations in Africa. This rise of the technology industry opens up new opportunities for Nigeria’s growing labour force in terms of employment and entrepreneurship, as well as a pool of goods and services to serve the country’s massive population of approximately 206 million people according to the world bank. In 2021 PiggyVest, one of the savings and investment platforms, says over N242 billion was paid to 3.5 million customers, this shows how much trust the Nigerian populace is beginning to have with tech-based business platforms and the potential they have toward the economy. 

This provides a huge potential for facilitating the economic and socio-political growth of the country. However, this growth comes with a potential threat to human rights, especially in the tech sector, which is often relegated to a mere mention on the issues of Business and Human Rights (BHR).

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to hold tech companies accountable for their business models on individuals’ human rights, particularly, in the context of the United Nations’ “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” framework, which mandates that all businesses, regardless of sector, nature, or size, to respect and remedy any potential human rights abuse in the course of their operations through a set of guiding principles. These guiding principles are the set of guidelines that defines concrete and actionable steps for government and companies to meet their respective duties and responsibilities to prevent human rights abuses in company operations. 

While the Internet and digital technologies have always had an influence on human rights, it has only been in the last few years that these repercussions have received widespread attention from digital rights actors. As digital technology becomes increasingly significant in many parts of society, the digital environment has had particularly far-reaching effects on the link between business and human rights. As a result, it is becoming increasingly vital to have clear and effective rules regulating how this connection develops across the ecosystem.

However, establishing rules, frameworks and procedures that protect individuals from harm or misuse of personal data while yet encouraging meaningful industrial innovation is a key challenge for both governments and the tech sector in Nigeria. This struggle is shown by a variety of incidents, including the ban on Twitter in Nigeria, the heightened online debt firms harassment or the alleged data-sharing partnership between telecoms and the government during the covid 19. While it is important to recognize the distinctiveness and peculiarities of technology businesses in terms of operations, conducting human rights impact assessment is not a matter of choice. 

In light of this, this article aims to highlight three approaches that can assist Nigerian tech companies to adopt and integrate the UNGPs more quickly in their operational and transactional activities.

Firstly, It is recognized that companies may need to prioritize Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) in their existing processes to pinpoint and address both clear and silent instances of human rights abuse. A human rights due diligence exercise is conducted by a company to assess the risk and liabilities of a project, transaction or a general ongoing process to human rights.  One of the most important human rights due diligence is transparency reporting a practice that allows companies to communicate with their users and stakeholders about their performance on business and human rights issues such as protecting users’ privacy and personal data while also allowing the public to hold the companies accountable for safeguarding users’ data. 

Furthermore, transparency reporting has several additional advantages, including signalling company values, educating legislators and alleviating customers’ privacy concerns. By integrating HRDD into company policies, tech companies can go a long way in working towards having a dynamic and human rights-respecting framework in Nigeria.

Secondly, is by incorporating human rights principles into the design of systems and operational structures of the companies. This requires developing standards and approaches based on UNGP recommendations, as well as analyzing and adjusting frameworks, strategies, and procedures on a regular basis to ensure they match the industry’s Human rights requirements. The guiding principles provide a coherent framework that makes such clear-cut assessments possible.

Interestingly, businesses have access to abundant resources and international instruments to guide them. What’s left is to think of ways to use them creatively to address human rights impacts associated with their business models and operations, such as through their internal policies ^the challenges of BHR, such as in their internal policies^. These tools will provide them with clear direction and insight into how business and human rights norms, issues and risks manifest  in their industry, thus, their main responsibility will be to ensure that those insights are brought back to engineers and corporate policy teams to better mitigate risks on an ongoing basis

Lastly, the need for close cooperation amongst stakeholders. Companies must make a deliberate and concerted effort to engage stakeholders such as civil society groups, national human rights institutions, researchers, and users for a collaborative effort to implement the UNGPs. These stakeholders would undoubtedly be willing to engage in effective UNGP implementation based on their performance in developing the Nigerian National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. This may necessitate the creation of a space for them to share resources and guidance in order to discuss business models and their various features in a way that can be unpacked and allow for the building of a constructive diagram on what the issues are, as well as answer the questions that are frequently asked about the nature of those risks, the people who are at risk, and what alternative measures and framework should be in place.

This strategy would guarantee that stakeholders consider the Nigerian technology sector as a whole, rather than individual businesses. Collaborative initiatives can then be put in place to provide remedies to affected people, to help companies identify systemic and industry-wide problems, formulate joint responses to broader challenges, or clear any uncertainty regarding how to comply with the UN guiding principles.

The good news is that more people are becoming aware of UNGPs, and some large and medium-sized tech firms in Nigeria are beginning to pay attention to the potential human rights risks of their business activities, as well as how they affect various stakeholders across the supply and value chain. It is worth noting that the BHR framework is simply about prevention and remedy. Hence, businesses that wish to preserve their reputation and strong relationship with their users and other stakeholders must meet expectations for responsible performance in terms of human rights protection, We need to see a broader shift in how UNGPs are employed in operations, compliance, human rights protection, disclosure, diligence, and transparency frameworks. This will lead to systematic adjustments in the tech sectors’ human rights processes in the future.

By Sani Suleiman Sani

Programs Assistant, Paradigm Initiative

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