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New Microsoft, UN partnership will focus on tech's role in tackling human rights challenges


As human rights challenges in communities around the world not only proliferate but grow increasingly complex, we're encouraged by the news this week that Microsoft is partnering with the United Nations Human Rights Office to ensure technology plays a positive role in promoting and protecting human rights. And like UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, we hope Microsoft's five-year, $5 million initiative will spur others in the private sector to step up. – Philip Bane


"As a global company that sees the problems of the world, we believe that we have a responsibility to help solve them," said Microsoft President Brad Smith in an announcement about the UN agreement. "We have an untapped opportunity to use the power of technology to collect data, analyze that data and equip the United Nations to advance human rights around the world."

Tech as a force for good
Acknowledging that in some cases technology may contribute to human rights challenges, Microsoft believes it also has an important role to play in tackling abuses. The $5 million grant from Microsoft will help establish technology that has a positive impact.

One example is Rights View, an information "dashboard" that will allow UN human rights staff to aggregate large quantities of internal and external data on specific countries and types of rights violations in real time. It will help facilitate analysis, ensure early warning of emerging critical issues and provide data to guide responses. Powered by cloud computing and big data analysis, the tool is just one example of the potential for technology to be a force for good.

Microsoft will also provide support for human rights advocacy and outreach campaigns through concrete support for the work of the UN Human Rights Office in such key areas as freedom of expression, data protection and privacy, and inclusion. The company also intends to work with the UN Human Rights Office to raise awareness of the role that companies can and should play in driving respect for human rights and to promote more responsible business conduct around the world.

Private sector's role
"The private sector has an essential role to play in advancing human rights, and this partnership with Microsoft demonstrates how we can join forces in a constructive way," Zeid said. "I hope this is just the beginning of something much bigger: that it helps stimulate a broad movement by the private sector to stand up for human rights. Increased support from major companies in the technology sector and other fields can clearly make a critical difference."

Learn more about what Zeid says is a "truly groundbreaking agreement" in this video.