in his last notice to shareholdersThomson Reuters announced that it would align with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) and conduct an independent human rights impact assessment of its products and services across the company, including contracts with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ).
The announcement comes after years of criticism over the 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 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 the data in ICE operations.
The announcement of the impact assessment has been met with cautious optimism by groups like Mijente, a grassroots Latinx nonprofit organization that has led the #NoTechForICE campaign.
“We will be closely watching the outcome of this evaluation,” said Jacinta González, Mijente’s senior campaign manager. “Members of our undocumented community 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 recently announced impact assessment comes after years of activism by shareholders of the British Columbia General Employees Union (BCGEU), a Canadian union that is a minor shareholder in Thomson Reuters through its general investment fund. In 2020, 2021 and 2022, BCGEU submitted shareholder proposals highlighting privacy and human rights violations committed by ICE and suggested that Thomson Reuters adopt the UNGPs as a guiding framework to mitigate human rights risk.
In an addendum 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included the text of the proposal most recently submitted by the BCGEU, noting that the proposal was voluntarily withdrawn from consideration at the annual meeting following commitments made to the union by the media company.
“This is why our union manages capital like 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 the sustained pressure from the BCGEU over the last 3 years and the continued work of Mijente and the NoTechForIce campaign.”
The BCGEU’s activism towards Thomson Reuters was stimulated by long-standing concern about the Clear databasewhich can consolidate data mined from public records into numerous external databases, such as motor vehicle and arrest records, health care provider information, cell phone records, and more.
In December 2021, the Clear database was thrust back into the spotlight following the release of a letter sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), which revealed that numerous utilities had been sharing data with ICE through an agreement that allowed the credit reporting agency Equifax to resell information about payments for electricity, water, television and other public services.
BCGEU Capital Markets Advisor Emma Pullman said the edge that after resisting calls for a human rights assessment, Thomson Reuters had been swayed by growing awareness of the dangers of sharing data with third parties.
“I think [Thomson Reuters] he has realized that investors are quite concerned about this, and that the public is increasingly concerned about data brokers,” Pullman said. “In that kind of perfect storm, the company has had to respond.”
Although the next impact assessment will not contain binding resolutions, the commitment to publicly share the results of the assessment, expected in the second half of 2022, is seen as a sign of the media company’s readiness for dialogue and the change.
“We eagerly await the results of the impact assessment this summer, and hope that other data brokers will receive similar pressure from responsible investors in the future,” Smith said. “This is just the beginning.”