Thomson Reuters commits to human rights review of ICE contracts after pressure from union investors

In its latest notice to shareholders, Thomson Reuters announced that it would align with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and conduct an independent assessment of the company-wide human rights impact of its products and services, including contracts. with the USA. Immigration and Customs Service (ICE).

The announcement comes after years of criticism over data brokerage 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 immigrants to the US. Thomson Reuters currently has more than $100 million in contracts with ICE and provides the immigration agency with not only raw data collected from cell phone records, license plate recognition and other publicly available information, but also in-house analysts and custom systems. to support the use of data in ICE operations.

The impact assessment announcement was met with cautious optimism by groups such as Mijente, a Latino nonprofit that spearheaded the #NoTechForICE campaign.

“We will be closely monitoring the outcome of this assessment,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign director at Mijente. “Our undocumented community members deserve the right to feel safe and should not fear that their data will be shared to harm them based on their immigration status.”

The newly announced impact assessment follows years of activism by shareholders of the British Columbia General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), a Canadian union that is a minority shareholder in Thomson Reuters through its general investment fund. In 2020, 2021 and 2022, the BCGEU submitted shareholder proposals highlighting privacy and human rights violations committed by ICE and suggesting that Thomson Reuters adopt the UNGPs as a guiding framework to mitigate human rights risk.

Attached to the notice to shareholders, Thompson Reuters included the text of the BCGEU’s most recently submitted proposal, noting that the proposal was voluntarily withdrawn from consideration at the annual meeting following commitments made to the union by the media company.

“That’s why our union manages capital the way we do – to force corporations to make progressive changes on issues that matter to workers,” BCGEU President Stephanie Smith said in a statement. “Thomson Reuters would not have taken this action without sustained pressure from the BCGEU over the past 3 years and the continued work of Mijente and the NoTechForIce campaign.”

The BCGEU’s activism towards Thomson Reuters was spurred by a long-standing concern over the Clear database, which is able to consolidate data extracted from public records into various external databases, such as motor vehicle and prison records, information from healthcare providers, cell phone records and more.

In December 2021, the Clear database returned to the spotlight following the publication of a letter sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), which revealed that several utility companies were sharing data with ICE for through an agreement. which allowed the Equifax credit reporting agency to resell information about payments for energy, water, TV and other utilities.

BCGEU capital market advisor Emma Pullman said: On the edge that after resisting calls for a human rights assessment, Thomson Reuters was influenced by growing awareness of the dangers of sharing data with third parties.

“I think [Thomson Reuters] realized that investors are very concerned about this and that the public is increasingly concerned about data brokers,” Pullman said. “In this kind of perfect storm, the company had to respond.”

While the upcoming impact assessment will not contain binding resolutions, the commitment to publicly share the assessment results – expected sometime in the second half of 2022 – is seen as a sign of the media company’s willingness to dialogue and change.

“We look forward to the impact assessment results this summer — and we hope that other data brokers will receive similar types of pressure from responsible investors in the future,” Smith said. “This is just the beginning.”

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