Human Rights Day 2020: Microsoft’s ongoing commitment and responsibility

A candle in darkness

Human Rights Day, December 10, both honors the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on this day in 1948, and challenges all of us to live up to its highest aspirations. To help mark Human Rights Day 2020, we are pleased to release an update to the Microsoft Global Human Rights Statement, which we are publishing in 18 languages and dialects. First publicly released in 2012, and last updated in 2016, our Global Human Rights Statement is the main expression of how we understand and approach our human rights responsibilities.

At Microsoft, we’re guided by a simple but foundational belief: When your technology changes the world, you bear a responsibility to help address the world you have helped create. Over the past few decades, digital technology has brought sweeping changes to the ways that we work and live. Our company has been at the forefront of these changes, and we continue to push forward in our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Let me offer just two examples.

Global pandemic: Covid-19 has made this year unusually challenging for human rights worldwide. The Universal Declaration enshrines the rights to life, medical care, work and education. Millions of people have lost access to these rights and more because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are saddened by all of the losses this year has brought. We have also been inspired to see that, thanks to advances in digital technology, more children can learn, more patients can receive adequate medical care, and more people can continue working than would have been imaginable even a decade ago.

Racial injustice: This past summer, global attention was directed to discrimination against Black and African American people in the US criminal legal system, including in policing, prosecution, sentencing and corrections. This results in many adverse human rights impacts, including the rights to equality; non-discrimination; life, liberty and security of person; freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; equal protection of the law; and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Worldwide, the issues of race, racism and criminal justice demonstrate how societies and the institutions intended to protect the rights of everyone can be fragile, and how they can be turned against vulnerable populations. Overall, this emphasizes the need for everyone, including leaders, businesses and individuals, to uphold behaviors and principles that protect and preserve the rights and freedoms of everyone in all societies. At Microsoft we are committed to advancing racial justice through public policy, by bringing to related challenges the power of data and digital technology in ways that increase transparency and accountability, and by focusing on diversity and inclusion in all our business practices and activities.

As part of Microsoft’s celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, in September Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President, once again had the chance to speak with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. During their conversation, they discussed Covid-19’s impact on human rights, multilateralism, gender equality, climate change and the importance of digital connectivity. That conversation illustrates how the human rights framework can help everyone, including Microsoft, to navigate the complex challenges we face today and in the months and years ahead.

So, I invite you to read our new Global Human Rights Statement. Given the importance that we ascribe to respect for human rights in everything we do at Microsoft, we think it’s important to share with our customers and partners how we meet our commitment to respect human rights by engaging, learning from, and working with stakeholders, by advocating for rights-respecting public policies, and by demonstrating respect for human rights in our products, services and business practices.

May we emerge from this pandemic and confront the challenges ahead with an even greater respect for – and emphasis on – the value of human rights. And, as always, we welcome feedback as to how we at Microsoft can best live up to the aspirations that we have embraced.

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