Sweden’s big four national pension buffer funds have laid out their expectations of global technology companies regarding human rights, and warned that increasing worries about these issues are eating away at confidence in the firms, which carries major investment risks.

The AP funds’ Council on Ethics today published a new expectations document, which it said would serve as a platform for the funds, and other investors, to engage with the likes of Facebook and Google about a range of serious problems.

In the document, the council – through which the buffer funds AP1, AP2, AP3 and AP4 coordinate their work on environmental and ethical issues – said information technology was embedded in global society and the internet offered key opportunities to tackle social and sustainability challenges.

“Yet concern at tech giants’ negative human rights impacts is growing and society’s trust in them is being corroded. Jeopardising tech giants’ social license to operate, this also carries significant business and investment risks,” it said.

New human rights challenges to have arisen in relation to big tech firms included the collection, use and commercialisation of personal data; extremism and terrorism; electoral manipulation; and severe impacts on vulnerable and at risk groups, such as children and human rights defenders, the council said.

John Howchin, the AP funds’ Council on Ethics secretary-general, said: “We need a broader discussion on the corporate responsibility of tech companies and respect for fundamental human rights.”

The council said a wider group of investors was also involved in drawing up the document, including APG, Church of England Pensions Board, LGPS Central, New Zealand Super Fund and USS.

The organisation said it had determined what constituted reasonable human rights expectations of tech giants – such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others that had experienced rapid growth in a relatively short amount of time – with help from the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Its new document of expectations demanded that tech firms reinforced measures to respect human rights and aligned their operations with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights, the council said.

Howchin said the council’s goal was for its expectations to become a platform for the ongoing, collective work concerning the relatively “young” sector.

“We do not have all the answers to these questions, as it is in many ways a new playing field we have in front of us, but we know from our experience of engaging with other sectors over the years that difficult questions can be addressed if you work in a structured way with the problems,” he said.

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