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Using Technology to Advance and Monitor Human Rights

On October 14, HUMAN organized a masterclass about supply chain trace-ability and the use of new technologies to monitor human rights issues on the ground.

Using Technology to Advance and Monitor Human Rights

HUMAN is a partnership between ICCO Cooperation, PwC, CNV Internationaal, and VBDO to advance the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the Netherlands and in the global supply chains of Dutch companies.

NGOs, unions and governments have long embraced the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Companies and investors are quickly catching up and are increasingly interested in tracing the social impacts of their supply chains and portfolios

Our question this year was centered around technology. Specifically: how can new technologies such as artificial intelligence, block chain and satellite tech offer insights in the human rights issues at play in global supply chains? We asked companies, investors and experts to share their views and experiences. Here are some key takeaways:

The opportunities are many, and the full potential of tech is yet to be harnessed.

  • Drones are routinely employed to better predict harvests, thus helping farmers secure a larger income. But they can also be used to monitor human rights issues in the plantations and at critical points along global supply chains.
  • Satellite images can help to monitor deforestation and inform “supplier blacklists”, so that those who are involved in unsustainable practices such as illegal logging can be easily excluded from the supplier pool of major corporations.
  • Block chain technology increases product and payment trace-ability, thus contributing to increasing the transparency of global companies. For example, it is now easier for consumers to check whether farmers and other workers are being paid a fair wage. Some social enterprises already use QR codes to empower communities and allow consumers to be part of a real-time check on wages.  
  • Supporting smallholder farmers is crucial to achieving food security in the world. One way to do it is by making simple but effective digital tools accessible to each farmer, so that the overall productivity can increase.
  • Monitoring of living wage (vs minimum wage) in supply chains is still the elephant in the room. New technologies such as open and shareable data on dedicated platforms create incredible opportunities to collect relevant data from local labor unions and local workers.

Tech can’t solve everything: some challenges still remain

  • New technologies also raise new questions. Who owns the data, and which farmers can afford these tools and technologies? Are smallholder farmers helped or hindered by new technologies? Are they able to harness the opportunities in practice?

Challenges cannot be solved alone. Partnerships between nonprofit organizations and companies are needed to learn and share experiences, experiment with new tools and mainstream new technologies so that they can become accessible and affordable for a larger pool of stakeholders. 

Speakers at the event: 

Onno Nillesen, Senior manager Sustainable Supply Chain Services PwC, on how drones, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence optimize harvesting and benefit companies and workers. 

Onno Nillesen at HUMAN

Sybren Attema, CEO of ICCO Cooperation, explains how ICCO integrates one of its core themes new technology in programs to support smallholder farmers, producer organizations and microfinance institutions. 

Sybren Attema CEO of ICCO at HUMAN

Marit May, CNV Internationaal on international responsible business in value chains and how technology could support trade unions and businesses to ensure more transparency and uphold fundamental labor rights.

Marit May at HUMAN 

Hester Holtland, VBDO on the challenge of creating a focus on the ‘S’ of ESG and not just the ‘E”.

Hester Holtland at HUMAN

Judy Schnitger – Zwinkels, Nestlé Netherlands on using satellite intelligence to monitor deforestation in the palm oil industry and prevent human rights violations. 

Amarjeet Singh, Fair Chain on how FairChain works for the coffee industry in Ethiopia. They use blockchain to ensure fair compensation of farmers. 

Amarjeet Sing at HUMAN

Kea Tijdens, and Maarten van Klaveren, WageIndicator on worker-powered transparency. WageIndicator collects data on wages, cost of living and labour law in 125 countries.

Kea at HUMAN

Michael Wilde EOSTA, on True Cost Accounting practice: living wage.

Michael Wilde from EOSTA at HUMAN

Frank Nagel, Director Rabobank Partnerships on affordable technology for smallholder farmers and its relationship to farmer wellbeing.

Frank Nagel at HUMAN

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