Private Sector Commitments to Advance Democracy

In the run-up to the Summit for Democracy, the U.S. government issued a Call to Advance Democracy.  The call focused on four areas aligned with the Presidential Initiative on Democratic Renewal:  advancing technology for democracy; fighting corruption; protecting civic space and human rights defenders; and advancing labor rights.

We are pleased to share a variety of commitments that private sector actors have made in response to the Call or in connection with the Summit for Democracy.  Companies – like governments – can do more to support democracy and human rights globally, especially at a time when malign actors often exploit corporations’ products to systematically undermine democracy around the world.  The steps below could be helpful in addressing important challenges if implemented in earnest and matched with additional action.

Please note that the following information was provided by the companies directly.  The Department does not necessarily endorse the views or information provided.

I. Advancing Technology for Democracy and Countering the Misuse of Technology

Over 150 Companies Endorse Principles to Counter Rising Threat Posed by Cyber Mercenaries, spearheaded by Microsoft, Meta, Cisco, and TrendMicro

Over 150 companies that have come together through the Cybersecurity Tech Accord have endorsed a set of principles, which were spearheaded by Microsoft, Meta, Cisco, and TrendMicro with additional support from Google and Apple, focusing on minimizing the risks associated with commercial spyware.  These principles recommend that companies take specific steps to counter the misuse of their products and services to harm people, actively counter the “cyber mercenary” commercial spyware market, invest in cybersecurity awareness, and do everything possible to protect customers, users and the general public.  Additional companies are encouraged to sign onto the principles in the coming days and weeks.

Cloudflare:  Working with Researchers to Better Document Internet Censorship and Shutdowns and Engaging Civil Society on Internet Protocols

Cloudflare commits to working with researchers to share data about Internet shutdowns and selective Internet traffic interference and to make the analysis of this data public and accessible. The Cloudflare Network includes 285 locations in over 100 countries, interconnects with over 11,500 networks globally, and serves a significant portion of global Internet traffic. Cloudflare provides alerts and data to help organizations like Access Now’s KeepitOn coalition, the Freedom Online Coalition, the Internet Society, and OONI monitor Internet censorship and shutdowns around the world.

In addition, Cloudflare commits to meaningfully consult civil society and human rights experts on standards and technologies to ensure future development and application of privacy-enhancing technologies and protocols are consistent with human rights principles and account for human rights impacts.

Google:  Committing $2 million and 100,000 Security Keys to Support Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders around the globe play a critical role in the promotion and support of democratic institutions.  They are consistently targeted for harassment and other attacks, threatening freedom of expression, privacy, and civic space.  Building on the work of its Human Rights Program, is launching a $2 million fund to support human rights defenders.  This $2 million new fund will support digital security and safety helplines, which provide help to human rights defenders and those vulnerable to doxxing, harassment, account hacking and more.   Google also recently announced it is providing 100,000 security keys at no cost to individuals at high risk of cyber attacks such as journalists, human rights defenders and others.  Google will also continue to provide strong security to those who need it most with its Advanced Protection Program (APP), Project Shield, and through its Online Safety and Security Partnerships with Defending Digital Campaigns and the International Foundation of Electoral Systems.

In addition, to help combat disinformation abroad and strengthen users’ resilience to it, Google’s Jigsaw will launch new prebunking campaigns in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region on several platforms, as well as publish its methodology and analytic findings to help other organizations working to strengthen information integrity abroad.

Meta:  Enabling Secure, Private Connections and Countering Government Abuse of Digital Technology

Meta recently announced a new feature that allows users to connect to its subsidiary WhatsApp’s instant messaging and voice-over-IP by proxy when their Internet connection is disrupted or blocked.  Disruptions and Internet shutdowns threaten to deny people’s human rights and cut people off from receiving and sending vital news and information.  Choosing a proxy enables users to connect to WhatsApp’s instant messaging and voice-over-IP through servers set up by volunteers and organizations around the world dedicated to helping people communicate freely – while maintaining the security of these communications.  Meta will continue to expand product features to ensure users can communicate securely, and to protect the right to privacy of users.  In addition, Meta commits to continue to regularly report on campaigns by authoritarian governments targeting human rights defenders and other vulnerable populations, for example, here and here.  Meta commits to take appropriate steps with respect to accounts that perpetrate such abuses, including blocking their domain infrastructure from being shared on its services, and where feasible and appropriate, notifying people targeted by these malicious groups.  As cyber espionage campaigns often target multiple platforms, Meta commits to continue to share information with security researchers and its industry peers, where appropriate, so they too can take action to stop this activity.

II. Fighting Corruption

25 Companies Join the Global Initiative to Galvanize the Private Sector as Partners in Combating Corruption (GPS)

Amazon, Anglo American plc, APCO, Cementos Pacasmayo, Crescent Enterprise, Crowell & Moring, Ericsson, Google, Grundfos, Iberdrola, Johnson & Johnson, McDermott, McKinsey, Merck, Novartis, Paul Hastings, Refinitiv, RELX, Rolls-Royce, SABIC, SNC-Lavalin, Tesla, Ulula, Walmart, and Yara have committed to joining the Global Initiative to Galvanize the Private Sector as Partners in Combating Corruption (GPS).  GPS, a key program under the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, is a vehicle for 1) engaging the private sector as advocates for transparency and accountability and 2) identifying and disseminating innovative private sector practices and approaches to combating corruption.  The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the Department of State (INL) has committed a minimum of $6.5M in funding to the initiative.

  • Amazon, Novartis, and SNC-Lavalin will participate in Compliance Without Borders, an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Basel Institute on Governance initiative, which matches compliance experts with State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) seeking to build capacity to address corruption- and integrity-related challenges.
  • Amazon will leverage its proprietary compliance toolkits to support small- and medium-sized businesses and, alongside SNC-Lavalin, support the development and implementation of an INL-funded and OECD-developed Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Toolbox (IACT).  IACT will empower actors across the infrastructure value chain to prevent, detect and report corruption.
  • Novartis and SNC-Lavalin will provide independent support to Small- and Medium-size Enterprises.
  • Using new tools it is developing to facilitate stakeholder agency, Walmart will provide regular anti-corruption input from its stakeholder base.
  • Walmart will contribute to GPS capacity building efforts through ongoing work on Digital Tools for Rule of Law & Recovery and channel ongoing workstreams to boost the SDG33 model as a leadership opportunity for corporate public policy functions.

Microsoft: Expanding Support for Journalists Investigating Corruption

As part of a commitment to working with local journalists worldwide to improve their understanding of digital safety and cybersecurity, Microsoft partnered with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in 2022 to expand a training curriculum for investigative journalists on the abuse of state resources in elections.  The training was piloted in October 2022 in Tunisia and November 2022 in Serbia among 29 local journalists, and focused on digital safety to help journalists map personal risks, cybersecurity to defend themselves online, and strengthening journalists’ capacity for safely investigating state abuse of public resources.  This training is in high demand across IFES’ global project portfolio of 33 countries, and IFES is looking to conduct additional trainings in 2023 and 2024.

Tintra: Supporting Innovative Solutions through USAID’s Countering Transnational Corruption Grand Challenge for Development (CTC Grand Challenge)

Tintra will provide financial and in-kind support to co-create along with USAID and other partners activities under the CTC Grand Challenge to creatively harness the power of data to more easily and effectively expose and prevent corruption.  As part of this effort (or separately if so requested), Tintra will host a hackathon/datathon in its offices with USAID’s key partners, advancing solutions toward a problem identified by USAID.  In addition, Tintra will offer a paid three-month mentorship to a promising early-stage finalist identified through the CTC Grand Challenge, which will include accommodations, training with Tintra’s coders, and support in developing, validating, and piloting their solution.

III. Protecting Civic Space and Human Rights Defenders

AIG Insurance Management Service:  Providing Design and Structural Support to Program to Provide Legal Support Against Vexatious Lawsuits

USAID, together with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, announced in December 2022 the launch of Reporters Shield, a program to provide training, resources, and legal support to mitigate the risk of lawsuits in advance, as well as to provide legal defense and assistance to respond to legal threats and claims.  Reporters Shield has received in-kind assistance from AIG Insurance Management Service, Inc. on the design/structure of the insurance initiative.  Reporters Shield will start accepting applications for support in the coming weeks.  The program is a response to studies by the Foreign Policy Center, Index on Censorship, and the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre that have documented how threats of legal action against investigative journalists and civil society organizations have put their work in jeopardy.

The Business & Democracy Initiative:  Serving as a Point of Connection for the Private Sector to Engage in the Work of Defending Democracy

The Business & Democracy Initiative is a coalition of business leaders and organizations organized by the Black Economic Alliance, Leadership Now Project, and Public Private Strategies.  It is committed to defending democracy, with a focus on the United States’ elections and democratic institutions, and learning from peers working in the private sector and civil society across the globe.  The Business & Democracy Initiative commits to convening business leaders in at least five states in 2023 to provide unbiased education on the state of democracy and opportunities for engagement; to convene private sector leaders on the need to protect businesses from government interference in their ability to conduct business and speak freely; and to amplify business leaders’ voices on the mutually beneficial connection between a strong democracy and a strong, stable economic climate, and the risks to the private sector when civic space is weaponized by those who would undermine democratic institutions.

Cloudflare:  Democratizing Post-Quantum Cryptography by Delivering it for Free, by Default

Cloudflare commits to providing post-quantum cryptography for free by default to all customers – including individual web developers, small businesses, non-profits, and governments.  This will benefit at-risk groups using Cloudflare services like humanitarian organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists through Project Galileo, as well as state and local government election websites through the Athenian Project, to help secure their websites, APIs, cloud tools and remote employees against future threats.  This reflects Cloudflare’s belief that everyone should have access to the next era of cybersecurity standards–instantly and for free.  Cloudflare encourages others to follow suit in making their implementations of post-quantum cryptography free to create a secure and private Internet without a “Quantum” up-charge.

Please see Cloudflare’s March 2023 Press Release and Blog Post on this commitment for more details.

Ford Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Google News Initiative, Luminate, Microsoft, MacArthur Foundation:  Supporting Public Interest Media

The International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM) is a multinational fund run by leading international media experts to support independent media – especially in resource-poor and fragile settings.  IFPIM will provide core operational support to vital public interest media, as well as support the development of new business models that enable these media to survive.

Managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc., IFPIM is finalizing grants to a diverse group of fourteen finalists in independent media from ten countries to help them experiment with new audience engagement, foster increased diversity in the newsroom, improve representation in coverage, and increase production of fact-based quality news content.  These grants will help these digital natives and other organizations continue to produce independent journalism; inform the public with fact-based data; enable public debate and dialogue across society; and hold those in power to public account.  Of $50 million raised by IFPIM to date (which includes $20 million from USAID), close to $8 million comes from the philanthropic and corporate organizations mentioned above.

Hedera:  Convening Democracy Roundtable on How Blockchain Technologies Support Human Rights, Transparency, and Sustainability

Hedera commits to convening a democracy roundtable on how blockchain technologies can and are supporting human rights, transparency, and sustainability.  Current democracy-related applications of blockchain include government systems accountability, fighting misinformation, reducing data manipulation, and tracking financial flows.  Hedera will invite companies, trade associations, advocacy groups, academics and government officials, publicly share a summary of the discussion, and make recommendations for next steps.

Meta:  Expanding the Availability of Security Protections and Publishing First Annual Human Rights Report and Human Rights Defenders Policy

Meta is giving activists and journalists more protections from threats of violence, including removing content that “outs” people as activists in situations that could put them in danger; giving them more control of their accounts, including who they allow to see their posts; undertaking efforts to secure the accounts of human rights defenders who have been arrested or detained in authoritarian states or conflict settings against unauthorized access by local law enforcement, security services, and conflict actors; and launching a Human Rights Defender and Journalist Fund at APAC.  In 2022, Meta published its first annual human rights report, committing to carrying out a comprehensive salient risk assessment.  As described in its human rights policy, Meta is committed to protecting human rights defenders and other civic actors to support, through product, policy, and operational interventions, their on-platform presence and ability to promote human rights, especially during conflict, elections, political unrest and humanitarian crises.

Microsoft:  Helping Independent Media Outlets become Financially Self-Sufficient – A Joint USAID, Microsoft, and Internews Initiative

Microsoft, USAID and Internews are jointly announcing the development of a Media Viability Accelerator (MVA). The MVA will support independent media outlets globally. Since 2005, the U.S. has lost more than a fourth of its newspapers (2,500) and is on track to lose a third by 2025. This trend has echoes around the world; the main threat to independent media today is arguably not repression by authoritarians, but the challenge of remaining competitive in a difficult business environment. The MVA will be designed to help media outlets abroad become more financially sustainable, compete more effectively for audiences and revenue, and become better equipped to address future business and financial challenges.

Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Initiative:  Committing to Launch Human Rights Defenders Guidance for 31 corporate members and the Initiative as a whole

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Initiative – a multistakeholder initiative that guides companies on how to conduct their security operations in a manner that respects human rights – commits to launching guidance on human rights defenders and the wider civic space in which they work.  The initiative includes 31 major multinational companies from around the world including BP, Chevron, Dinant, Exxon, Shell, Total, Vale, and others.  The guidance will offer an analytical and operational framework to identify and address risks to human rights defenders across key elements of Voluntary Principles implementation; risk assessment and due diligence; stakeholder and community engagement; and relationships with security forces and host country governments.  It will outline practical ways in which those that implement the VPs and the Initiative as a multistakeholder platform can play a proactive conflict prevention role.

IV. Advancing Labor Rights

American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) / Fair Labor Association (FLA):  Committing to Make Workers Whole as part of Responsible Recruitment

On March 28, 2023, the AAFA and FLA re-launched and enhanced the AAFA/FLA Apparel & Footwear Industry Commitment to Responsible Recruitment.  The enhanced Commitment to Responsible Recruitment builds on lessons learned over the past five years.  Signatories now commit to create conditions where workers receive a timely refund of any fees and costs paid to obtain or maintain their job, if such conditions were already imposed.  The signing companies also agree to work to fully and effectively implement these practices, to incorporate the Commitment into their social compliance standards within one year of signing, and to periodically report on their actions to implement the Commitment, such as through sustainability and/or modern slavery legal disclosures.  Together with their members and Commitment signatories, AAFA and FLA will continue to review the enhanced Commitment to identify areas of future improvement.  AAFA/FLA urge the entire industry to join fellow brands in signing the Commitment.

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS