This webinar will consist of a panel discussion among experts and civil society organisations to identify and address challenges in promoting business respect for human rights in repressive and authoritarian contexts such as Iran. Focusing on the telecom sector and presenting the discussion paper published by SOMO, FIDH and JFI on the case of Italtel and the OECD complaint brought against it with the Italian National Contact Point (NCP), this Webinar will provide an opportunity to discuss the duties of multinational ICT companies to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts. Drawing on the experience of business rush to Iran following the 2015 nuclear deal and in the context of its potential revival, the Webinar will aim to highlight lessons and recommendations for civil society organisations, national governments, NCPs and the OECD, on how best to advance corporate accountability including by pushing for binding legislation on human rights due diligence expectations.
- What lessons can be drawn from the case of Italtel for future engagements of ICT companies with Iran and other repressive regimes?
- How important is Business and Human Rights norm-making, including in relation to mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence, in fostering greater respect for human rights in the ICT sector?
- What are the gaps and problems within the business and human rights normative framework and practice in relation to ICT companies in repressive contexts, and how can policymakers correct these?
- What is the role of CSOs, national governments, OECD and NCPs in influencing corporate behaviour and public policies aimed at promotion of robust human rights policies and due diligence processes in the ICT sector?
Background to the discussion:
The business rush to Iran following the implementation of the nuclear deal in January 2016 saw hundreds of multinationals competing for making deals with Iranian entities.
In April 2016, Italtel signed an agreement with the state-run Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI), to provide it with telecom products and services. These included internet backbone technology carrying a high risk of adversely impacting human rights through state-imposed restrictions on the flow of information.
In the first-ever case related to Iran under the OECD Guidelines, FIDH, REDRESS, and Justice for Iran filed a joint complaint against Italtel, highlighting the tight grip of the Iranian authorities over TCI, and arguing that the Italian multinational had failed to identify the risks of contributing to severe negative human rights impacts. This led to Italtel reassessing its agreement and withdrawing some of the services it had previously offered to provide to TCI.
Like Italtel, many other European companies signed contracts and engaged in Iran’s economy without conducting due diligence or properly considering the human rights situation as a condition for doing business with the regime.
The heyday of doing business with Iran proved to be short-lived as many multinationals had to disengage just over two years later when the Trump administration withdrew from the pact and re-imposed the economic sanctions. Yet, the adverse impacts on human rights are often long lasting and can reoccur if lessons are not learnt.
As the debate on the United States returning to the Iran nuclear deal under the Biden administration is ongoing and international trade is expected to be resumed if the economic sanctions are lifted, there is a risk of companies repeating the same mistakes.
In parallel, political momentum and consensus to establish binding corporate human rights due diligence norms have been growing. In March 2021, the European Parliament voted by a strong majority in favor of a report which calls the European Commission to establish a mandatory human rights due diligence bill.
Yasmine Laveille, Operational Manager of Justice for Iran
Keynote Speaker: Surya Deva, Member of UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights
Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, Senior Researcher at SOMO and Coordinator of OECD Watch
Gaelle Dusepulchre, Permanent representative to the EU, FIDH
Mohammad Nayyeri, Co-Director of Justice for Iran