Spark Speaks Out: The Business of Human Rights

By SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow

At Spark’s Speaker Series last week, we were honored to hear from three professionals with insight on technology’s impact on women’s rights:

  1. Dunstan Allison Hope: Managing Director at BSR, a nonprofit that advises Fortune 500 companies on human rights and sustainability strategies. Dunstan is also a co-founder of the Global Network Initiative and co-author of Big Business, Big Responsibilities.
  2. Sakina Arsiwala: co-founder of Campfire Labs and the former international charter leader at Youtube.
  3. Rachel Yeager: leader of the HERproject, a BSR initiative focused on improving women’s health needs in global supply chains.


Dunstan opened the discussion by asking the audience about the evening’s topic…do technology and business have a positive or negative impact on human and women’s rights?  While the audience’s reaction was mixed, Rachel volleyed this question by stating that businesses can have a positive impact on communities…particularly on women.

Rachel explained that in some countries women’s rights are lower than general human rights and that benchmark for human rights and women’s rights can differ vastly across national borders. Unlike governments, businesses operate under global standards for both. In countries with comparatively lower standards for women’s rights, global businesses give women opportunities that may otherwise be unavailable. To illustrate this point, Rachel explained that women make up roughly 80% of Bangladesh’s garment industry. 20 years ago these communities were ashamed of working women. Working women were viewed as prostitutes and often forbidden to marry. Now, the situation has shifted- women are encouraged to work and empowered by their incomes. Dowries are less common as women provide for themselves financially. Her example demonstrated how businesses can empower women by giving them vocational opportunities previously unavailable.

Sakina pushed the point further and dove into the discussion on
technology’s impact on society.  While human rights and norms differ widely from country to country, technology can open the discussion of rights in a global context. This resonates with one of the most important byproducts of technology – education and information sharing. With education as a critical component of development and women’s empowerment, technology has the capacity to dramatically improve women’s rights around the globe.

The night concluded with a discussion on the impact of technology on women’s employment both home and abroad. As women continue to enter the global workforce, they become a stronger market for businesses. As a result, businesses are investing in women to better understand this global market. Our panelists hoped that such investments will trickle down to the workforce in the tech sector–where women are vastly underrepresented.

If you missed this lively discussion last week, make sure to check out Spark’s website for some more great upcoming events. Thank you to all who were able to attend- we appreciate all your support!

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