REDMOND, Wash. — Dec. 10, 2008 — When the full scope and horror of the Nazi wartime atrocities began to emerge after World War II, many member states of the newly formed United Nations (UN) began calling for an international law outlining and protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of all individuals on the planet. This Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), as it came to be known, was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948 — 60 years ago today.
Throughout its 33-year history, Microsoft has demonstrated its commitment to human rights and the UDHR through its business practices, including employment policies, supply-chain management and procurement practices. The company is one of 4,700 corporate signatories to the UN Global Compact, an international business initiative designed to promote responsible corporate citizenship. Two of the compact’s 10 principles refer to human rights.
Pamela Passman, Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Global Corporate Affairs
PressPass asked Pamela Passman, corporate vice president of global corporate affairs, to discuss Microsoft’s commitment to the UDHR and the work the company is doing to support and advance human rights.
PressPass: Just about every large multinational organization would say it supports human rights. How has Microsoft’s support for this goal translated into concrete actions?
Passman: Our status as both a technology leader and a large global employer has given us a platform from which, when necessary, we’ve been able to get the attention of the global media and policy-makers. We’ve raised our voice primarily in four key areas related to human rights: fair employment practices, supply-chain management, freedom of expression and community development.
PressPass: What progress has Microsoft made in each of these areas? Let’s start with fair employment.
Passman: Article 23 of the UDHR deals with guidelines for fair employment practices, such as allowing people to choose where they work (as opposed to forced labor), providing reasonable working conditions and a discrimination-free workplace, offering equal pay for equal work regardless of gender or other protected factors, and paying everyone at least a living wage. Microsoft is in full compliance with Article 23 and goes beyond these minimum requirements. We believe our our non-discrimination policy is second to none in terms of inclusiveness and comprehensiveness. Microsoft policy prohibits discrimination in hiring, compensation, access to training, promotion or termination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, disability, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation or gender identity. We see fair employment practices as a key part of our commitment to responsible business practices and human rights.
PressPass: What do you mean by supply-chain management? How does Microsoft support human rights in this arena?
Passman: I mean that we not only hold our employees to the highest standards of human rights compliance, but we request that others in our supply chains, such as vendors, sales-channel partners and service providers, make similar commitments. Our Vendor Code of Conduct includes policies regarding employment, legal compliance, privacy and security, corruption and bribery. We routinely monitor key vendors’ conformance to the Code, which prohibits forced labor, child labor, harassment and discrimination, and lists other requirements for fair and safe working conditions. When necessary, we work with vendors to help improve working conditions in their facilities.
PressPass: In the area of freedom of expression, didn’t Microsoft draw criticism in 2006 for acquiescing to a blog censorship request from the Chinese government?
Passman: In 2006, the government of the People’s Republic of China asked Microsoft to remove a well-known blogging site on MSN Spaces authored under the pseudonym of “Michael Anti.” The authorities made it clear that removal of this blog content was required under local law, and we complied. We learned a lot from that case, but government policies on content are by no means an issue only in China.
All over the world, governments enforce local laws regarding permissible content and indirectly pressure information and communications companies to cooperate in their efforts. In some cases, these local laws and concerns may conflict with internationally recognized human rights standards. In general, we believe that to best preserve the Internet’s value as a means of expression and access to information, governments should exercise restraint in regulating Internet content. We think it is important that laws and policies that regulate content are adopted and implemented through transparent and formal legal processes, so users know what content is restricted and have the opportunity to peacefully object or shape policy over time.
PressPass: Is this why you helped organize the Global Network Initiative?
Passman: Yes, in part. The Global Network Initiative hopes to promote rule of law and transparency in government policies on freedom of expression and privacy. And Microsoft and other companies, investors, organizations and academics launched the Initiative in October to help develop and implement standard corporate responses to such government requests, so that companies can show appropriate respect for both the rights of our users and local laws. Because we recognize that different governments and societies have different sets of local concerns, the principles the GNI has developed are grounded in international human rights law, practical experience and a commitment to transparency and accountability, and will no doubt evolve over time.
PressPass: What is your community development policy?
Passman: We are committed to working through local partnerships in underserved communities to create jobs and opportunities by investing in technology and training. Last year, Microsoft donated more than US$61 million in cash and US$273 million in software to nonprofit organizations throughout the world. Not only do such investments increase employment and commerce in each community, they also allow people who previously had no access to technology to use the power of information to change their lives. Ultimately, we hope to generate enough social and economic opportunities to lift these communities out of poverty.
For example, Microsoft has several ongoing efforts to help rural communities increase productivity and do business in global markets. Rural areas are among the most difficult to serve because they often lack adequate electrical power and telecommunications infrastructure. A case in point is China’s Henan Province, where Microsoft is providing two “Infowagons” — high-tech buses loaded with more than a dozen PCs that can travel to rural areas and offer training that introduces people to the benefits of information and communications technology.
And in Mexico, we’ve partnered with local organizations to set up community technology centers in some of the poorest districts in the country. These centers provide IT training to local educators, who then pass along the knowledge to the most underserved groups, including people with disabilities, homeless children and indigenous populations.
PressPass: How has the pursuit of human rights changed over the past 60 years?
Passman: As in many other aspects of our society, the Internet has probably been the single most powerful catalyst in the human rights arena. It has had a dramatic impact on the speed and degree with which human rights abuses have been identified and publicized. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to relax our attention to human rights issues around the world, but I am confident that we can mitigate some of the damage by using the latest advances in — and applications of — information and communication technologies to jump on reports of abuses more quickly and to organize cooperative responses and protests.