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How should Internet and Phone Companies respond in Egypt? - Blog by IHRB Policy Director Salil Tripathi, 01 Feb. 2011

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Human rights due diligence will be vital for companies

01 February 2010

John Morrison Sir, The Vodafone website states that it had “no legal or practical option” other than to close down its mobile network in Egypt (the largest in the country) over recent days and to “comply with the demands of the authorities”.

The clash between local law, albeit that of an authoritarian regime, and international law will be a key theme for the information and communication technologies sector for years to come. While it clearly represents a dilemma for such companies, it is not one where it is always sufficient to say that “complying with the demands of the authorities” is necessarily the right course of action. Given the experiences of Yahoo and Google in China, Nokia in Iran and Ericsson in Sudan, the dilemma can hardly have been unexpected.

These companies will need to exercise comprehensive human rights due diligence before signing contracts with the governments or joint venture arrangements with national companies. The risks need to be managed as effectively as possible in the wording of the contracts themselves, something that is rarely the case at the moment. Without such action by the industry, some will say that UK or European Union law should be amended to require them to do so.

This letter was originally published in The Financial Times on 01 February 2011.

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