Accelerating our commitment to human rights

DECEMBER 10, 2021 • BLOG POST • JOHN SCHULTZ, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, LEGAL & ADMINISTRATIVE AFFAIRS

TAP IMAGE TO ZOOM IN

IN THIS ARTICLE

  • 2021 is the ten year anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  • HPE’s cultural commitment to human rights dates back to the founding of our company and is embedded into how we work and innovate
  • To make progress, companies must think beyond their own walls and partner with each other to drive collective action

The corporate community’s role and responsibility

This week, I was honored to join UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and other executives of leading tech companies to discuss how executives can advance corporate respect for human rights.  I’m proud of HPE’s leadership in this space, and excited about how we plan to advance human rights in the future. 

The conversation that High Commissioner Bachelet led was both timely and informative. This year, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and this Friday, December 10, marks International Human Rights Day. The takeaways from the discussion were clear. As corporate leaders, it’s our responsibility to foster the right governance and culture to ensure that human rights risks are identified and addressed. We must also address systemic human rights risks underpinning digital technologies, take the necessary steps to prevent harm, and encourage tech for good.

How HPE Leads on Human Rights

Our founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were forward thinking leaders when it came to the role of corporations in society. They said “A company that focuses solely on profits, ultimately betrays both itself and society … The biggest competitive advantage is to do the right things at the worst time.”

An area where I’m most proud of HPE’s leadership is in building a culture of respect for human rights.  Our culture defines us as a company: how we act, how we treat others, and how we conduct business. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to communicate and demonstrate our culture in action, taking bold moves, encouraging innovation and putting people and partnerships first. Our culture supports our social aims, including taking difficult action when something does not feel right, having the courage to innovate when facing challenges, and nurturing inclusion.  We have led in this space for a decade now, as an early adopter of the UNGPs, and I’m excited about how HPE will continue to bring the UNGPs to life over the next decade.

More recently, we have embraced our responsibility to develop and sell responsible technology, and seek to develop tech for good. We do this through our AI Ethics governance and activities, by supporting causes such as the Tech for Good Call, and by contributing technological solutions to address big societal challenges such as COVID-19.

We have also introduced strong governance around human rights.  Our board of directors, my fellow executives and I have ultimate accountability over our human rights performance. Throughout the year, we review human rights trends, specific risks, and our approach to mitigating those risks.  At the executive level, our Ethics & Compliance Committee frequently engages on these issues.  At the Board level, our Nominating, Governance and Social Responsibility Committee oversees HPE’s ESG strategy, policies, and public disclosures, and our Audit Committee engages on human rights risk through our annual ethics and compliance risk review.

We have a strong track record on human rights and a brand we can be proud of, but we have to challenge ourselves to be as forward thinking as our founders.

Moving forward means integrating human rights into everything we do

Our human rights team, part of our Ethics & Compliance Office, approaches human rights not as a stand-alone program but as a critical component embedded into how we work. Our active respect for human rights enables us to realize our purpose to advance the way people live and work, through the way we work.

We identify high risk opportunities, assess risk, and most importantly take action to prevent or mitigate potential harm to people. This due diligence extends to our operations, supply chain, acquisitions, investments, partnerships, and sales.

One area of bold thinking involves focusing on how our products are used, not just how they are sourced and built. We focus on our technologies with highest risk of misuse – i.e. AI, considering ethics at the design phase, and assessing AI we develop, bring in through partnerships and use in our own operations.

Going forward we plan to continue sharing our lessons and practices, and disclose more on how we assess risk, risks we identify and our experience in both preventing and mitigating harm and amplifying positive impact on people.

Collaboration is key to success

To realize our human rights aims and put our standards to practice, we need collective action. We aim to extend our culture and best practice on human rights beyond our company, influencing ethical practices of our technology partners, suppliers, and customers.

HPE engages and supports improvements in human rights commitments and practices with:
 

  • Our suppliers, building their capacity and engaging their workforce to understand what matters most to workers

  • Our sales partners, with the aim of advancing their human rights commitments, and supporting their journey to better respect human rights through how they operate

  • Our peers, exploring challenges, defining best practice and finding more effective ways to work together

  • Our stakeholders including investors, rights-holders, communities, governments and the UN, to address concerns, develop stakeholder-informed processes and approaches
     

HPE’s executives engage in these conversations, amplify our human rights commitments, and communicate our requirements.

This coming year, we will engage our suppliers and sales partners to further advance their commitments and human rights due diligence, and to continue to engage with UN B-Tech and our peers.

Becoming a force for good

We aim to not only reduce our risk, but have a positive impact on society. It is no longer enough to reduce risk to individuals - companies need to go further, and advance their contribution to big societal issues such as freedom of movement, inclusion, privacy and freedom of expression.

This means we not only consider and mitigate risks to individuals and vulnerable groups, but take proactive steps to advance positive impact. For example, we:
 

  • Research root causes of risks such as forced labor, provide capacity building to prevent forced labor and other non-conformances in the supply chain, and engage in advocacy for regulation that advances individuals’ rights and well-being

  • Proactively review how we can develop technology with embed safeguards, accompanied by responsible use guidance

  • Advocate for AI ethics, including in our sales, and invest in training our employees and partners on our AI Principles
     

Actioning our respect for human rights ensures that through our regular business, we live out our purpose to advance the way people live and work.

RELATED NEWS