Quote of the Day: Hikvision and Dahua Claim to “Support the Ten Principles of the U.N. Global Compact on Human Rights, Labour, Environment, and Anti-Corruption”

Two Chinese manufacturers of video surveillance equipment—state-owned Hikvision and publicly traded company Dahua Technology—have joined the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) in an attempt to burnish their reputations, which have been  severely undermined by evidence that the companies have contributed to human rights abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Both companies have been subject to restrictions by the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada for facilitating the oppression of Uyghurs by providing “highly invasive” surveillance equipment to the Chinese Party-state, underpinning their complicity in what the United Nation’s top human rights body has called possible “crimes against humanity.” Many activists have called for a complete ban on the two companies, and the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has strongly urged the UNGC to expel Chinese tech companies that have facilitated genocidal policies in Xinjiang. 

Today’s CDT Quote of the Day comes from the first paragraph of two identical Letters of Commitment (LoCs) submitted by Hikvision and Dahua to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as a part of the admission process to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a group of 20,000+ companies who commit to socially responsible conduct, particularly in terms of human rights and sustainability:

“I am pleased to confirm that [Dahua/Hikvision] supports the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. With this communication, we express our commitment to making the UN Global Compact and its principles part of the strategy, culture and day-to-day operations of our company.” [Source]

A recent report by Internet Protocol Video Market (IPVM), a U.S.-based security and surveillance industry research group and trade publication, provides more insight into how Hikvision and Dahua may be attempting to leverage the U.N.’s stature to rehabilitate their own tarnished reputations without making any meaningful changes:

Dahua and Hikvision’s CEOs sent letters to the United Nations’ top official committing not to abuse human rights in unusually high-profile pledges, given their complicity in what the UN’s human rights chief deemed possible crimes against humanity.

[…Letters of Commitment] require the company’s highest executive to commit to the UNGC’s Ten Principles, such as #2: “[Companies must] make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.”

[…] Joining the UN Global Compact is consistent with Dahua and Hikvision’s broader strategy to rehabilitate their reputations without actually addressing their complicity in the human rights abuses that tarnished them in the first place. However, letters committing directly to the UN Secretary-General on issues including human rights demonstrate a surprising level of ambition for this strategy.

To be sure, this may be less an indication of Dahua and Hikvision’s seriousness than it is a demonstration of how casually the United Nations risks companies exploiting its name for public relations value via the UN Global Compact. Dahua and Hikvision’s letters were direct copies of online templates, and make no specific commitments, showing how little effort is actually put into joining the UN Global Compact, notwithstanding the high-profile recipient and senders. Indeed, the most difficult part of the process may have been obtaining a CEO’s signature.

While objectionable, Dahua and Hikvision’s strategy may have some success. The United Nations has a global reputation for human rights, having effectively created them in their modern-day form. Association with the UN may help the companies convince others to doubt or overlook accusations.

[…] Our assessment that Dahua and Hikvision’s UNGC commitments are insincere is not based only on their past actions but on the actions they are not taking in the present. [Source]


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