The South Africa-based telco MTN, which operates in 21 countries across the Middle East and Africa, recently released its first Group Human Rights Policy. MTN announced its support for user rights to privacy, security, communication and information, using the Access “Telco Action Plan” as a guiding policy document.
Access welcomes news of the company’s adoption of policies that respect the human rights of users. For two years, we campaigned for MTN to release a statement of respect for human rights, vetted by its top leadership. We engaged the company, first through intermediaries, and then directly. Our global community spoke up as well, with nearly 15,000 users signing a petition calling on MTN to increase transparency and respect rights in conflict zones like Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan.
The release of a Human Rights Policy from MTN was always a priority, and we are heartened to see the company embrace its responsibilities publicly. However, we wait to see how the guidance in our Telco Action Plan is implemented on the ground by MTN.
Issuing a rights-respecting statement by top leadership is the first step outlined in the Telco Action Plan and UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but not the last. MTN’s statement must be followed by concrete measures improving the company’s impact on users’ right to privacy, access to information, and freedom of expression. For telcos like MTN, these steps include conducting independent human rights impact assessments, issuing regular transparency reports, updating policies on government requests for user data, and engaging with stakeholders at all levels of operations. Above all, MTN must ensure that it does not harm or undermine the human rights of its customers in any of the countries in which it operates.
Access looks forward to seeing additional telcos adopt policies and practices respecting the human rights of their users, and will work to ensure they are fully implemented around the world.