In its last notice to shareholdersThomson Reuters reported that it would agree with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Trade and Human Rights (UNGPs) and make an independent, full-fledged human rights impact assessment of its products and services, including contracts with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ).
The announcement comes after years of criticism of data breach services provided by the Canadian media conglomerate to ICE, which uses a Thomson Reuters database service known as CLEAR to track, arrest and deport undocumented migrants in the United States. Currently, Thomson Reuters has more than $ 100 million in contracts with ICE and provides the immigration agency not only with raw data collected from cell phone records, license plate recognition and other publicly available information but also with internal analysts and customized systems support the use of the data in ICE operations.
The announcement of the impact assessment was greeted with cautious optimism by groups such as Mijente, a popular Latinx non-profit organization that led the #NoTechForICE campaign.
“We will look closely at the outcome of this assessment,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign manager at Mijente. “Our undocumented community members deserve the right to feel safe and should not be afraid that their data will be shared to harm them according to their immigration status.”
The recently announced impact assessment comes after years of shareholder activism by the British Columbia General Employees Union (BCGEU), a Canadian union that is a minor shareholder in Thomson Reuters through its general and defense investment funds. In 2020, 2021, and 2022, BCGEU presented shareholder proposals highlighting privacy and human rights violations committed by ICE and suggesting that Thomson Reuters adopt the UNGPs as a guiding framework for mitigating human rights risk.
In an appendix to the shareholder notice, Thompson Reuters included the text of BCGEU’s most recently submitted proposal, noting that the proposal was voluntarily withdrawn from consideration at the annual meeting following commitments made to the media company’s union.
“That’s why our union is doing capital management the way we do — to force corporations to make progressive changes on issues that are important to workers,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said in a statement. “Thomson Reuters would not have taken this action without continued pressure from BCGEU over the last 3 years, and continued work by Mijente and the NoTechForIce campaign.”
BCGEU’s activism to Thomson Reuters has been spurred on by a long-standing concern about the CLEAR database, which can consolidate data extracted from public records through many external databases, such as automobile and arrest records, healthcare provider information, cell phone records and more.
In December 2021, the CLEAR database reappeared after the publication of a letter sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), which revealed that many utility companies shared data with ICE by agreement. this allowed credit reporting agency Equifax to resell information on power, water, television, and other utility payments.
BCGEU Capital Markets Adviser Emma Pullman said The Edge that after first resisting calls for human rights assessments, Thomson Reuters was shaken by a growing awareness of the dangers of sharing data from third parties.
“I think so [Thomson Reuters] noted that investors care enough about this, and that the public is increasingly concerned about data brokers, “Pullman said.” In such a perfect storm, the company had to respond. “
Although the next impact assessment will not contain binding resolutions, a commitment to publicly share the results of the assessment – expected for some time in the second half of 2022 – is seen as a signal of the media company’s willingness for dialogue and change.
“We look forward to the results of the impact assessment this summer – and expect other data brokers to receive similar kinds of pressure from responsible investors in the future,” Smith said. “This is just the beginning.”