Human rights

We are committed to respecting the human rights of everyone working for Vodafone in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Human rights

Wherever we operate, we work to ensure that we do not infringe human rights through our operations or business relationships.

We believe that communications technology supports human rights by enabling the exchange of ideas and access to information. This in turn supports economic and social opportunities, fosters development, advances knowledge and increases openness and transparency. See Transformational solutions for more on how our products and services help to improve people’s lives and livelihoods.

We recognise that Vodafone has a responsibility to respect human rights, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and align our approach with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This responsibility is embodied in our Business Principles and our Code of Conduct (pdf, 1.9 MB).

Managing human rights

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a clear framework to guide companies and other stakeholders in their approach to these issues. The ’Protect, Respect, Remedy’ framework assigns responsibility to business enterprises to respect human rights by not infringing on the rights of others and addressing adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.

We worked with the sustainability organisation, Business for Social Responsibility to conduct a gap analysis of our Group-level approach to human rights against the UN Guiding Principles. The analysis, completed in 2013/14, identified six categories of human rights most relevant to Vodafone’s business:

  • labour rights: for our people and those working in our supply chain
  • civil and political rights: particularly privacy and freedom of expression
  • rights of the child: particularly child safety online, including the protection of children from online sexual abuse and exploitation
  • economic, social and cultural rights: particularly economic development; bribery and corruption; and mobile phones, masts and health
  • land and property acquisition: particularly in relation to network deployment
  • environment: minimising environmental impacts.

Each of these categories is managed through our governance structure, well-established policies and due diligence processes which are described in detail in the corresponding sections of this report, together with performance information where relevant.

In addition, human rights issues are integrated into the due diligence process we conduct before entering new markets (either as an operator ourselves or through partnerships with other operators). This process uses internationally recognised indices and evaluations of particular issues, such as corruption, political affiliations and human rights risks, to assess and highlight the potential impacts associated with entering new markets.

Labour rights

We are committed to respecting the human rights of everyone working for Vodafone either directly as an employee, or indirectly as someone employed by one of our suppliers.

Our Code of Conduct (pdf, 1.9 MB) clearly states that we will base relationships with and between employees on respect for individuals and their human rights. We will not tolerate any form of discrimination. Our Group employment policies are consistent with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s Core Conventions. These policies require consistent standards across Vodafone. For more details on issues including health and safety, the right to join trade unions, equal opportunities and diversity, see Our people.

With an extensive global supply chain, there is a risk that some suppliers or sub-contractors might not meet acceptable standards related to working conditions and human rights. Our Code of Ethical Purchasing sets out the labour, health and safety, ethical and environmental standards we expect our suppliers to meet. The Code is based on Vodafone’s values and international standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s Conventions on Labour Standards. For more on how we monitor suppliers’ compliance and tackle issues such as conflict minerals, see Responsible supply chain.

Vodafone does not tolerate forced, compulsory or child labour.

Civil and political rights

We believe that access to communications technology can support greater freedom of expression, which in turn depends upon the right to privacy if it is to be exercised effectively. However, the rights to freedom of expression and privacy must be balanced with the protection of vulnerable groups, such as children, and the protection of public safety or security in certain exceptional circumstances.

In every country where Vodafone operates, governments retain law enforcement powers that impact rights to privacy and freedom of expression. These include legal powers that require telecommunications operators to provide information about customers or users, or to put in place the technical means to enable information to be obtained for law enforcement purposes, such as lawful interception. Governments also retain powers to limit network access, block access to certain sites and resources, or even switch off entire networks or services.

These powers have many legitimate purposes, including fighting crime and terrorism, or protecting public safety. However, these powers must be balanced with respect for civil liberties and freedoms, including individuals’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression. We closely manage and monitor compliance with these legal obligations and our relationships with law enforcement authorities to ensure human rights are respected.

Vodafone’s Global Policy Standard on Law Enforcement Assistance sets out our principles and standards on assisting law enforcement, including processes to ensure our actions are accountable at the most senior level. See our Law Enforcement Disclosure report for more on our approach to responding to government demands, together with a breakdown of the legal powers that governments hold. We also publish statistics on the number of law enforcement demands we received on a country-by-country basis, where it is legal to do so and the government does not already publish statistics.

Vodafone is a founding member of the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, a group of global telecoms companies working in collaboration with the Global Network Initiative to address issues of privacy and freedom of expression. Vodafone is a signatory to the Industry Dialogue’s Guiding Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy (pdf, 754 KB), which define a common approach to dealing with demands from governments that may affect privacy and freedom of expression in a principled, coherent and systematic way across the industry.

See our Law Enforcement Disclosure report and Privacy and security for more details on how we manage privacy and freedom of expression.

Rights of the child

We support a common industry approach to child safety online. Vodafone helped develop and has signed up to the guiding principles of the ICT Coalition for a Safer Internet for Children Online. The principles set out a common code of conduct for the development of products and services that promote child safety online. We submitted a self-declaration report (pdf, 895 KB) of our status in September 2013 and an independent assessment of all the companies’ declarations was published in May 2014.

Vodafone is a signatory to the European Commission’s CEO Coalition to make the internet a better place for kids. This commits us to make it easier for users to report harmful content, ensure that privacy settings are age-appropriate and offer parental controls.

Vodafone is also a founding member of the Mobile Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Content, which aims to obstruct the use of mobile networks and services by individuals or organisations wishing to view or profit from child sexual abuse content. We are committed to doing all we can to remove such content from the internet.

We have Notice and Takedown procedures in place to ensure this illegal content is removed or dealt with appropriately, should it be found on our servers, and to coordinate with law enforcement agencies on any subsequent investigation. Additionally, as a member of the IWF, we maintain filters on our own networks that block access to web pages known to host child sexual abuse content, using a block list provided by the IWF. We do this in the majority of our markets in the EU, with the exception of the Netherlands and Germany, where it is not legal to use such a block list.

In addition, our industry-leading initiatives such as the Digital Parenting website and the My Tech Family programme provide advice for parents and tools to help young people use mobile phones and internet services safely. See Child safety online.

Economic, social and cultural rights

We are increasing access to telecommunications by extending our network across emerging markets and offering solutions tailored to low-income markets, including those that can help to increase access to healthcare, education and finance. See Transformational solutions.

Vodafone has a zero tolerance approach to any form of bribery. This is embedded across the Group through our robust global anti-bribery programme. This programme targets bribery and corruption that, if used to influence public officials for example, could threaten the rule of law and the realisation of economic rights. See Ethics.

Our approach to managing radio frequency safety is based on all available scientific evidence to ensure we safeguard our customers, employees and the public. Mobile devices, and the masts that enable them to communicate calls and data, operate well within guideline safety limits. See Mobiles, masts and health.

Land and property acquisition

We consult communities in the selection of our sites, as part of the applicable planning permissions in each market for installing antennas or other equipment. See Network deployment.

Environment

We have strong processes in place to manage the environmental impacts of our operations including our carbon footprint and disposal of electronic waste. See Environment.

We are also helping to reduce carbon emissions in other sectors. See Enabling a low carbon economy.