IGF 2021 WS #275
Beyond privacy: AI's impacts on Economic & Social Rights

Organizer 1: Marlena Wisniak, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Speaker 1: Athreya Bama, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Raval Noopur, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Fernanda Hopenhaym, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Marlena Wisniak, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Marlena Wisniak, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Marlena Wisniak, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Break-out Group Discussions - Flexible Seating - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

Economic and social inclusion and sustainable development: What is the relationship between digital policy and development and the established international frameworks for social and economic inclusion set out in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on the Rights of the Child, and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? How do policy makers and other stakeholders effectively connect these global instruments and interpretations to national contexts?

Research and civil society advocacy have mainly focused on the civil and political rights of artificial intelligence (especially on the rights to freedom of expression and privacy) arguably at the expense of economic, social, and cultural rights. Yet the actual and potential impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on economic and social rights, which include labor rights, appear to be significant.

More research needs to be done to better understand the impacts of AI on economic and social rights. As most technology is designed, developed and deployed by the private sector, technology companies have a special responsibility to prevent, mitigate and remedy any adverse impacts that their activities may have on these rights. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) is a helpful framework to carry out this responsibility. This session seeks to explore what a holistic approach to human rights, including ESCR, would look like for AI.


1. No Poverty
3. Good Health and Well-Being
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
10. Reduced Inequalities
12. Responsible Production and Consumption

Targets: When thinking of the human rights impacts of AI systems, emphasis is given to civil and political rights. The UN OHCHR B-Tech project rightfully cautioned that "For many in the technology sector, questions will almost certainly arise about the company’s impacts on privacy and freedom of expression. However, there is already evidence that the use and misuse of technologies can have online and offline impacts on a wide range of other human rights." The nod towards ESCR here is clear, as corporate abuses of human rights in the technology sector have included violations of workers’ rights, forced labor, or even forced land relocation of communities. As such, analyzing the impacts of AI on ESCR is a necessary step to end poverty (SDG 1) and reduce inequalities (SDG 10), advance good health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4) and decent work and economic growth (SDG 8). Because women and gender non-binary persons are disporportionately impacted by AI systems, SDG 5 related to gender equality is relevant. Furthermore, AI systems are primarily designed, developed and deployed by the private sector, which is why companies have a duty to prevent and mitigate adverse impacts on ESCR of AI-driven services and products.


As governments have increasingly been adopting automated decision-making systems to modernize or harmonize their operations, more and more agencies have relied on AI-driven systems for social welfare administration. Unfortunately, research has shown that “automated technologies used in social welfare administration have a transformative impact on people’s ability to attain economic and social rights. But socio-economic rights are a missing frame in the critical discussion about automated systems and A.I.” From inadequately trained or flawed technologies that deny people their right to social security, to the failure to access these systems due to lack of connectivity,among other things, automated decision-making systems can have life-decisive impacts on people’s economic, social, and cultural rights.

AI-driven products are often applauded as a means to enhance, strengthen and achieve efficiency. Taking a human rights-based approach with an emphasis on economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) means that AI can impact people’s right to work, health, social security, housing, and education, among other rights. The focus of this session is on workers’ rights, but participants will also explore other economic and social rights.

Like other human rights, ESCR include not only substantive rights, but also procedural ones, including the right to participate in creating policies. When applying the human rights framework in AI, this would imply asking questions such as: “how effective are automated systems in meeting people’s basic human needs? How do automated systems affect the distribution of public services? In what ways are these systems discriminatory? How fair are procedures for applying to benefits? Was the decision on use of A.I. in specific organisational context transparent and done in a participatory way? And, to what extent automated systems influence the situation of marginalized groups?” Participants will explore these questions in the workshop.

Expected Outcomes

This workshop is designed to enable future discussion. The session will end with an invitation to discuss next steps in a follow up conversation, which the facilitator would organize. If there’s interest, the facilitator would consider expanding this conversation and launch a broader initiative focusing on ESCR in artificial intelligence.

To maximize outreach, the organizer will later draft a summary of the session and make it publicly available. Stakeholders working in this space (including technology developers) can thus learn from shared perspectives and include civil society considerations into their research and/or products.

The session will be structured in three parts. First, the invited speakers will present selected aspects of their work and experience related to ESCR. Second, participants will be divided into small groups to foster more intimate discussion. Breakout groups will be available both for attendees participating remotely, and those who are attending in-person. The organizer will provide facilitation for both in-person and online breakout groups. Third, participants will reconvene and brainstorm, in a plenary setting (combining both in-person and remote participants), what potential next steps can be carried out to advance enhance civil society participation in multistakeholder platforms for internet governance.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool.