Tuesday October 04, 2022

Thomson Reuters agrees to human rights assessment for ICE contracts following push by union investors

Thomson Reuters’ latest shareholder notice announced that it will align with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and conduct an independent company-wide assessment of human rights impact of its products and services. This is after years of criticisms over the data brokerage services offered by Canadian media conglomerate to ICE. Clear uses a Thomson Reuters database service called Clear to track, deport, and arrest undocumented immigrants in the US. Thomson Reuters currently has more than $100,000,000 in contracts with ICE. It provides the agency with raw data gathered via cellphone records, license plate recognition and other publicly available information, as well as in-house analysts and customized systems that support the use the data in ICE operations.
Mijente, a grassroots Latinx non-profit organization that led the #NoTechForICE campaign, has welcomed the announcement of the impact assessment with cautious optimism.
Jacinta Gonzaga, senior campaign director at Mijente, said that “we’ll be closely watching the outcome of this assessment.” “Our undocumented members of the community deserve to feel safe. They should not be afraid that their data might be used to harm them based upon their immigration status.”
After years of shareholder activism by the British Columbia General Employees Union (BCGEU), a Canadian union, the impact assessment was finally announced. It is a result of years of shareholder activism. Thomson Reuters’ general investment fund is a minor shareholder of BCGEU. BCGEU submitted shareholder proposals in 2020, 2021 and 2022 highlighting privacy violations and human rights violations by ICE. They suggested that Thomson Reuters adopt UNGPs as a guiding framework to mitigate human rights risk.
Thompson Reuters included in the shareholder notice an appendix the text of the latest submitted proposal from BCGEU. It noted that the proposal was withdrawn from consideration at this year’s annual meeting following commitments made by the media company to the union.
“This is why our union does Capital Stewardship the same way we do- to force corporations to make progressive Changes on the Issues that Matter to Working People,” stated Stephanie Smith, president of BCGEU. “Thomson Reuters wouldn’t have taken this action if it wasn’t for the sustained pressure from BCGEU over 3 years and ongoing work of Mijente and NoTechForIce.”
BCGEU’s activism against Thomson Reuters was prompted by longstanding concerns over the Clear database. This Clear database is able consolidate data pulled out of public records across many external databases such as motor vehicle and arrest records and information about health care providers.
The Clear database was again in the news after Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) published a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It revealed that many utility companies had been sharing data and ICE through a deal that allowed Equifax, a credit reporting agency, to re-sell information on power, water, and other utilities payments.
Emma Pullman, BCGEU’s capital market advisor, told The Verge that Thomson Reuters was influenced by a growing awareness about the dangers of third party data sharing. Thomson Reuters initially refused to conduct a human rights assessment.
Pullman stated that Thomson Reuters has recognized that investors are very concerned about this and that data brokers are becoming more of a concern to the public. “In such a perfect storm, the company had to respond.”
The impact assessment is not expected to contain binding resolutions. However, the commitment to share the results publicly — which is expected to take place sometime in the second half 2022 — signals the willingness of media companies for dialogue and change.
Smith stated, “We eagerly await results of the impact assessment this Summer – and expect that other data brokers will be subject to similar pressure from responsible investors in future.” “This is only the beginning.”

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