HRIAs in ICANN: Constructive Innovation to Benefit Society
Operationalizing ICANN’s human rights bylaw is an opportunity for the ICANN community to continue its leadership in multistakeholder innovation. Perhaps more importantly, work carried out to develop and refine tools like human rights impact assessments has the potential to generate benefits beyond the ICANN community, the DNS, and even the ICT sector. It would be myopic for the ICANN community to squander this unique opportunity for innovation.
Building on Existing Best Practices
Human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) are a systematic process to investigate, measure, and address the potential and actual human rights impacts. They are increasingly used by companies and civil society alike to pinpoint issues of highest risk and concern in general, within subsidiaries, before acquisitions, or across partnerships. HRIAs are also a systematic, holistic way to mitigate risk and reputational harms by pre-emptively identifying and addressing human rights impacts of policies, products, and operations. HRIAs differ from other types of assessments, such as environmental impact assessments, in that they are rooted in international human rights frameworks.
Developing New Tools
Multistakeholder HRIAs are premised on meaningful inclusion and stakeholder engagement throughout the process, with representatives from companies and communities coming together to jointly develop and undertake impact assessments. Such a collaborative approach has the potential to achieve a more accountable process, while generating trust among participants. Multistakeholder impact assessments also overcome the perceived biases of strictly company-led HRIAs, which are often conducted internally with little consultation from civil society or affected communities, and community-led assessments, which may lack crucial information about decision-making processes.
In impact assessments, the term “communities” generally refers to groups of people living in the same locality. When applied in the ICANN context, however, the term “community” expands exponentially to encompass the entirety of Internet users, as well as other companies, academia, technical operators, and even governments. Multistakeholder HRIAs in ICANN have the potential to benefit from the differing perspectives and skill sets of these stakeholder groups, thereby resulting in an impact assessment that is potentially more comprehensive, actionable, and technically sound.
Acting on Commitments
In 2016, ICANN added the Core Value of “respecting internationally recognized human rights as required by applicable law” to its bylaws. The provision was made at the time, however, that the new human rights bylaw would remain dormant unless and until a framework of interpretation (FoI) was developed and approved by the ICANN Board. With the FoI successfully developed, the implementation of ICANN’s Human Rights Bylaw is imminent and each Supporting Organization and Advisory Committee is now responsible for “developing their own policies and frameworks to fulfill the Core Value.”
Leaders in the ICANN community should consider how tools such as multistakeholder HRIAs can be incorporated into their respective decision-making processes, lest this opportunity for proactive innovation to benefit the global public interest go to waste. The CCWP-HR remains available as a forum for related discussions moving forward.