In its latest notice to shareholders, Thomson Reuters said it would align with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and carry out an independent impact assessment of its products and company-wide human rights services, including contracts with the United States. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The announcement comes after years of criticism of 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 migrants without papers in the United States. Currently, Thomson Reuters 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 internal analysts and custom systems to support the use of data in ICE operations.
The impact assessment announcement was met with cautious optimism by groups like Mijente, a grassroots Latinx nonprofit that spearheaded the #NoTechForICE campaign.
“We will closely monitor the outcome of this assessment,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign manager at Mijente. “Members of our undocumented community deserve the right to feel safe and should not have to fear that their data will be shared to harm them because of 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 of Thomson Reuters through its investment funds. general and defense investment. In 2020, 2021 and 2022, BCGEU submitted shareholder proposals highlighting privacy and human rights violations committed by ICE and suggesting that Thomson Reuters adopt UNGPs as a guiding framework to mitigate risks for human rights.
In an appendix to the notice to shareholders, Thompson Reuters included the text of the proposal most recently submitted by the BCGEU, noting that the proposal was voluntarily withdrawn from consideration at the annual meeting after commitments made to the union by the media company.
“That’s why our union manages capital the way we do – to force companies to make progressive change on the issues that matter to workers,” BCGEU President Stephanie Smith said in a statement. “Thomson Reuters would not have taken this action without the sustained pressure from BCGEU over the past 3 years and the continued work of Mijente and the NoTechForIce campaign.”
BCGEU’s activism towards Thomson Reuters has been spurred by a long-standing concern over the CLEAR database, which is capable of consolidating data extracted from public records into numerous external databases, such as vehicle records and arrests, health care provider information, cell phone records, etc.
In December 2021, the CLEAR database was again in the spotlight after the publication of a letter sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), which revealed that many companies of utilities had shared data with ICE as part of an agreement. which allowed credit reporting agency Equifax to resell information about payments for electricity, water, television and other utilities.
Emma Pullman, Capital Markets Adviser at BCGEU, said The edge that after initially resisting calls for a human rights assessment, Thomson Reuters had been swayed by a growing awareness of the dangers of third-party data sharing.
“I think [Thomson Reuters] realized that investors are very concerned about this and the public is increasingly concerned about data brokers,” Pullman said. “In this kind of perfect storm, the company had to react.”
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 signaling the company’s willingness to media to dialogue and change.
“We look forward to the results of the impact assessment this summer – and expect other data brokers to face similar pressure from responsible investors in the future,” Smith said. . “This is just the beginning.”