One of the great things about working at BSR is being immersed in so many sustainability challenges at different companies, on various topics and in diverse geographies. The risk of this exhilarating lifestyle is that the details of each engagement obscure the big picture. So, from time to time, I like to step back, survey the scene around me and try to figure out what is really going on.
Over the past six months, I've had experiences that have both inspired and depressed me, particularly in the industry I spend most of my time working with: information and communications technology, or ICT. Recently, I've found myself reflecting on these experiences and reaching a point of view on the big-picture priorities that I think ICT companies should be making better progress on these days.
1. Ethics and technology: It is often said that the impact of technology is overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term. There are huge innovations taking place that raise complex ethical questions for which notions of right and wrong, and responsible and irresponsible, are difficult to define. Just think of the ethical issues raised by the 3-D printing of weapons, artificial intelligence, Big Data and molecular nanotechnology.
What I'd love to see: ICT companies commissioning whitepapers that scope out the contours of these questions and increase our collective ability to understand them and make informed judgments. Pharmaceutical companies often have ethics committees to address issues of medical ethics — should ICT companies do the same?
2. Product-level human rights impact assessments: One of the key lessons we have learned in working with ICT companies to apply the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is that the these impacts are often most significant at the product (rather than corporate or operational) level.
What I'd love to see: ICT companies undertaking human rights assessments of their products and services that combine in powerful ways the insights of human rights experts (who tend to know less about technology) and technology experts (who tend to know less about human rights).
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