Union investor successfully pushes Toronto's Thomson Reuters to prioritize human rights and re-evaluate ICE contracts
Canadian media and data giant to adopt United Nations human rights framework and publish a human rights report after 3-year investor battle
(Burnaby, Canada) Thomson Reuters' enabling of U.S. immigration surveillance prompted the BC General Employees' Union (BCGEU)-a minor shareholder-to initiate a multi-year campaign to demand greater human rights due diligence from the Toronto-based company. After three successive shareholder proposals on the issue, the company has agreed to conduct human rights risk assessments on its products and disclose key findings from the assessments starting in the second half of 2022.
As part of its groundbreaking capital stewardship program, the BCGEU filed shareholder proposals in 2020, 2021, and 2022 targeting Thomson Reuters' human rights risk mitigation practices. In 2020, 30% of the company's independent shareholders supported the union's proposal. The next year, independent shareholders' support for the union's proposal more than doubled to more than 70%. The 2021 proposal also won coveted endorsements from both ISS and Glass Lewis, the leading independent governance analysis and proxy voting firms in the world, in addition to high profile institutional investors, lawyers, and human rights experts.
Facing another shareholder vote on the union's proposal in 2022, Thomson Reuters' confirmed it has aligned with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and has commenced a company-wide human rights impact assessment of global operations, products, and services, including studying human rights abuses enabled by the contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In addition, the company announced it had commenced a global ESG materiality assessment.
In response to this announcement, BCGEU President Stephanie Smith released the following statement:
"This is why our union does capital stewardship the way we do-to force corporations to make progressive changes on the issues that matter to working people. Thomson Reuters would not have taken this action without sustained pressure from BCGEU over the past 3 years, and ongoing work by Mijente and the NoTechForIce campaign. Tackling human rights risk isn't just important for protecting shareholder value, real human beings will be impacted by the results of these audits. This win is for them as much as it is for our union.
We eagerly await the results of the impact assessment this summer – and expect other data brokers are going to receive similar kinds of pressure from responsible investors in the future. This is just the beginning."
Thomson Reuters contracts with ICE have a total value exceeding $100m USD. The contracts are to provide data brokerage services that help the U.S. agency target undocumented immigrants for detention and deportation. The company, via its Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting (CLEAR) software, amassed data from private and public databases on individuals, like social media information, names, emails, phone data, license plate scans, utility bills, financial information, arrest records, insurance information, employment records, and much more. Thomson Reuters' current biggest ICE contract is to provide Automated License Plate Reader technology to the agency through 2026 (from Vigilant Solutions, a company that has been shown to circumvent sanctuary laws to allow ICE information sharing). These technologies have been directly linked to deportations and raids across the U.S., potentially involving family separation and the detention of immigrants in conditions that violate their human rights.
News reports note that the company does not merely provide off the shelf software, Thomson Reuters employees have fine-tuned target lists and provide those lists to ICE with address changes, credit activities, location, and more.
The software has also been used by Minnesota law enforcement for surveillance on the community, according to new reporting from Buzzfeed News. Minneapolis has been the center of protests in the United States following the May 25 killing of 46-year-old George Floyd by police officers.
Link to Thomson Reuters announcement (found on pages 119-120 of the proxy circular): https://assets.nationbuilder.com/bcgeu/pages/896/attachments/original/1651092684/Pg_119-120_-_2022_Thomson_reuters_proxy.pdf?1651092684
About BCGEU: BCGEU is one of the largest unions in British Columbia, with over 85,000 members in almost every community and economic sector in the province. Under BCGEU's capital stewardship strategy, the union has submitted shareholder proposals at some of Canada's largest companies on topics like human rights, racial equity, and executive compensation. The union's strategy has succeeded in achieving strong commitments on ESG issues.
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