ARTICLE 19 stands in solidarity with Indian and Arabic-language civil society organisations as they demand the immediate publication of Meta’s India Human Rights Impact Assessment (the India HRIA) and Business for Social Responsibility’s Palestine report (the BSR Palestine report). ARTICLE 19 calls on Meta to comply with its transparency obligations under the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), in accordance with Meta’s human rights policy, to release the findings of both the India HRIA and the Palestine independent review without further delays, and to commit to better practices in all independent reviews and human rights due diligence going forward. Transparently and safely publishing these documents are necessary steps to address Meta’s long-standing problems with transparency in respective regions and beyond.
In July 2022, Meta released its first annual Human Rights Report, which covers Meta’s due diligence performed in 2020 and 2021. ARTICLE 19 finds that the Human Rights Report falls short of the transparency requirements under the UNGPs and Meta’s own transparency commitment in a number of respects. In particular, there is a complete omission on the most pressing human rights concerns associated with Meta, which is its dependence on a surveillance advertising business model. We also note the alarming omission of the concerns by both civil society organisations active in India and Arabic-speaking countries regarding their respective human rights assessments within the report.
At the same time, we find that the establishment of the human rights team within Meta has not yet led to increased accountability or to a meaningful improvement in Meta’s engagement with civil society. We further note that any real commitment by Meta to improve its human rights record should also address its harmful business practices that time and again place profits over human rights, as their presence in India has demonstrated.
Concerns about the Human Rights Report section on India
In 2019, Meta commissioned US law firm Foley Hoag to undertake an independent human rights impact assessment on potential human rights risks in India. Many civil society stakeholders, academics, and journalists were interviewed in the process. However, neither the India HRIA nor a summary thereof have been released. The Human Rights Report deals with India in a mere four pages that lack the required substance and do not allow for an evaluation of the adequacy of Meta’s response to the human rights risks in India. This is in breach of Principle 21(b) of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which require companies to ‘provide information that is sufficient to evaluate the adequacy of an enterprise’s response to the particular human rights impact involved’. It is also clearly against the guidance by The Danish Institute for Human Rights – referenced by Meta itself in the Human Rights Report – which states that:
‘Writing and publishing a final assessment report is also important. A detailed HRIA report that is available and accessible to rightsholders, duty-bearers and other relevant parties can foster dialogue and accountability by documenting the impacts that have been identified, the measures taken to address them and the processes for monitoring the effectiveness of measures. The report should be drafted with special consideration to challenges such as sensitivity of information.’
Meta has claimed that the India HRIA cannot be released and that only a synthesis was produced to ‘mitigate security risks as per UNGP 21(c) security concerns’. While security of Meta’s staff is important and the UNGPs acknowledge that security risks should be considered, this does not absolve Meta from publishing a detailed HRIA. Meta cannot breach its transparency obligations with simple reference to security concerns. It must provide sufficient information and detail on its human rights impact assessment for third parties to be in a position to evaluate the adequacy of Meta’s response. This is impossible from the information provided in the Human Rights Report.
To the extent that specific and limited information cannot be released for security concerns, Meta should release a modified report where such information is redacted, but that still provides the level of detail required by the UNGPs. Going forward, Meta should commission human rights impact assessments that are drafted in a manner that takes account of security challenges so that they can be published in full.
It is also telling that Meta emphasises that it does not agree with the India HRIA’s findings. Indeed, the report has a disclaimer that ‘Meta’s publication of this summary, and its response thereto, cannot be construed as admission, agreement with, or acceptance of any of the findings, conclusions, opinions or viewpoints identified by Foley Hoag, or the methodology that was employed to reach such findings, conclusions, opinions or viewpoints.’
We are deeply concerned about Meta’s failure to publicly draw any lessons and make any commitments on the basis of the report.
Concerns about Meta’s failure to publish its report about content moderation in Palestine
In the MENA region, ARTICLE 19 echoes the concerns of Arabic-speaking civil society organisations, who have been raising alarms about the continuously delayed publication of the BSR Palestine report. Arabic-speaking civil society have highlighted their routine difficulties getting Meta to respect human rights. They have joined Indian civil society in their calls to see the India HRIA and demand more transparency.
The similarities in the calls and concerns of these two regions cannot be dismissed, whereby both have experienced material and accounts from human rights defenders being removed, while incitement to violence remains on the platform. We also recognise the frustrations of these regional organisations as their advice and documentation labour is often either ignored or attributed to the Facebook Oversight Board or other parties.
ARTICLE 19 recommendations
In support of regional civil society efforts in the MENA and India, ARTICLE 19 echoes the calls for the following actions from Meta:
Publicly release, without further delay, a detailed human rights impact assessment for Palestine that includes all of BSR’s findings and recommendations
Release a detailed human rights impact assessment for India human rights impact assessment with all of Foley Hoag’s findings and recommendations (and eliminating only that information from the Foley Hoag report that is strictly necessary to manage risks to affected stakeholders or personnel)
For both Palestine and India, and for all HRIAs and independent reviews going forward, give the civil society organisations that contribute to the reports the ability to review all findings and recommendations, even those that cannot be made public
Going forward, when Meta contracts with companies or law firms to conduct independent reviews, HRIAs, or other forms of due diligence they must make public the terms of Meta’s engagement with the third party conducting the audit, in particular who has the authority to review and release the report