Sweden’s big four national pension buffer funds have organised a large international group of institutional investors to work together persuading the world’s biggest technology firms to better manage their human rights risks – for example, getting them to tackle the problem of hate speech.

Through their joint Council on Ethics (AP-fondernas etikråd, Etikrådet), AP1, AP2, AP3 and AP4 announced this morning they had convened the investor group – which has €6.4trn in combined assets and includes big pension funds such as Railpen, APG, PGGM and USS – to collaboratively engage with focus companies Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and Tencent.

Magdalena Håkansson, chair of the Council on Ethics, said: “We, together with this investor group, recognise the systemic nature of the challenges related to online content, and in addition to effecting company-level improvements hope to raise broader discussion and awareness of the risks with the services of these tech companies.”

She said the dialogues would focus on “content-related practices pertaining to corporate culture and structures, vulnerable groups (especially children), access to remedy and stakeholder engagement”.

The council said the three-year initiative lined up with the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights and built on the investor expectations issued by the Council on Ethics and the Danish Institute of Human Rights in 2020.

The main goal of the project was to make sure the big technology firms took concrete steps to address operational and human rights risks relating to their products and business models, as well as to encourage more transparent reporting on the related impacts and efforts, the council said.

Many online platforms had business models centred on maximising interactions with their content and giving users information they were interested in, the council said, adding that although this led to big benefits in terms of transparency and connectivity, it also came with notable risks.

“For example, the spreading of malicious or untrue content can cause far-reaching damage,” it said in today’s statement.

Apart from putting individual human rights in danger, especially those of vulnerable groups, hate speech and misinformation could have system-level consequences such as hyper-polarisation, discrimination, violence and erosion of democracy, the council said.

“A failure to manage these impacts can harm the companies’ social license to operate and the associated reputational, legal and regulatory risks may have material implications,” it said.

Other pension investors taking part in the joint tech-sector engagement include the Church of England Pensions Board, LGPS Central and NY City Comptroller’s Office.

The Council on Ethics said in its 2022 report published a fortnight ago that it had begun paving the way for this project last year.

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