International Trade Centre

Acronym: ITC

Established: 1964

Address: 54-56 rue de Montbrillant, Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.intracen.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

ITC  supports developing countries to achieve trade-led growth, fosters inclusive and sustainable economic development, and contributes to achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs).

ITC offers small businesses, policymakers, and business support organisations in developing countries an array of trade-related practical training and advisory services, and a wealth of business intelligence data. It helps micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) become more competitive and helps to create better regulatory environments for trade. ITC works to empower women, youth, and refugees through its programmes, projects, services, and data and helps drive digital connectivity and a global transition to green, sustainable trade.

Established in 1964, ITC is a multilateral agency with a joint mandate with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations (UN) through the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Digital activities

ITC activities in e-commerce and digital trade:

  • Focus on the digitalisation of trade and solving the constraints faced by MSMEs regarding the e-commerce of goods and services, at the enterprise, business ecosystem, and policy levels.
  • Develop small business digital capabilities and improves e-commerce accessibility in developing countries for sustainable and inclusive growth through its ecomConnect programme.
  • Support the development of a conducive policy and regulatory environment for e-commerce at the national, regional, and multilateral levels, including facilitating domestic policy reforms, informing policymakers on the needs of MSMEs in relation to e-commerce and digitalisation, and building capacity for e-commerce-related trade negotiations.
  • Support digital connectivity by improving telecommunications regulations and working with partners who provide access to technologies and services.
  • Improve business ecosystems by collaborating with market partners and equipping business service organisations (BSOs) with the capacity to support MSMEs in the digital economy.

ITC is one of the co-facilitators of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action lines in the area of e-business, as well as a partner agency in UNCTAD’s e-trade for all initiative.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade

ITC provides capacity building for policymakers on current issues in the e-commerce policy debate through training, workshops, and publications contributing to a conducive policy environment for e-commerce and digital trade. ITC projects also support developing countries in reviewing and updating e-commerce-related regulations and building capacity for effective implementation of policy reforms.

ITC assists enterprises, in particular MSMEs, in acquiring the necessary skills and capabilities to trade on e-commerce channels. Through the ecomConnect programme, it is engaged in the sustainable development of small businesses online by facilitating shared learning, innovative solutions, collaboration, and partnerships.

ITC’s e-commerce tools help MSMEs assess the readiness of their business to engage in international e-commerce,   understand the options and costs of selling on e-commerce platforms, find available payment solutions, and track sales and site traffic across different e-commerce platforms in a single dashboard.

ITC’s digital entrepreneurship projects also support developing countries and MSMEs to build competitiveness in the rapidly growing global information technology and business process outsourcing markets.

Capacity development

ITC’s SME Trade Academy offers a series of online courses and access to educational material on an array of trade topics. It aims to assist SMEs, policymakers, and BSOs in building skills for trade development.

ITC also offers training for policymakers on building a conducive environment for e-commerce and engaging in negotiations on e-commerce and digital trade.

Digital tools

ITC addresses the challenge of a lack of reliable trade information on markets by offering market analysis tools and related market data sources. The Global Trade Helpdesk provides a one-stop shop for detailed information about imports, market dynamics, tariffs, regulatory requirements, potential buyers and more.

ITC market intelligence tools provide users with export and import statistics from more than 220 countries and territories and consist of the following: Trade Map, Market Access Map, Investment Map, Procurement Map, Export Potential Map, and Sustainability Map.

The ecomConnect community platform, managed by the ITC’s ecomConnect programme, links entrepreneurs, industry experts, and business support institutions in e-commerce to build up connections; acquire digital expertise through free online courses, e-commerce tools, and live webinars; and discuss the latest e-commerce news. The community brings together more than 5,000 active users from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

In addition, the ITC library offers a specialised information resource on international trade as well as its online catalogue, which is available to all users.

Social media channels

Facebook @InternationalTradeCentre

Instagram @internationaltradecentre

LinkedIn @@international-trade-centre

X @ITCnews

YouTube @International Trade Centre

World Economic Forum

Acronym: WEF

Established: 1971

Address: Route de la Capite 91-93, 1223 Cologny/Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.weforum.org/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

WEF is a not-for-profit foundation whose membership is composed of large corporations from around the world. We engage political, business, academic, and other leaders of society in collaborative efforts to shape global, regional, and industry agendas. Together with other stakeholders, we work to define challenges, solutions, and actions in the spirit of global citizenship. The Forum also serves and builds sustained communities through an integrated concept of high-level meetings, research networks, task forces, and digital collaboration.

Digital activities

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is one of the Forum’s key areas of work. Under this focus, we carry out a wide range of activities covering digital policy issues, from telecom infrastructure and cybersecurity to the digital economy and the future of work. We have set up multiple platforms and global forums focused on bringing together various stakeholders and initiatives to advance debates and foster cooperation on the issues explored. We also publish reports, studies, and white papers on our focus areas, and feature discussions on the policy implications of digital technologies in the framework of the Forum’s annual meeting in Davos and other events organised around the world

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure

The Forum’s work in the area of telecom/digital infrastructure is broadly dedicated to shedding light on the need to advance connectivity and evolve towards new network technologies as a way to support the transition to the fourth industrial revolution and support the growth of digital economies. For instance, the Global Future Council of New Network Technologies, active between 2018 and 2020, explored, among others, incentives for network development and the role of new network systems in driving value and innovation. The Forum also promotes the role of digital public infrastructures in enabling digital inclusion and advancing sustainable development. 

A specific focus area for the Forum is 5G. We have identified 5G as an issue of global importance and work on analysing the impacts of 5G on industry and society. In our report titled The impact of 5G: Creating new value across industries and society, we note that 5G will be critical because it will enable unprecedented levels of connectivity, allowing for superfast broadband, ultra-reliable low latency communication, massive machine-type communications, and high reliability/availability and efficient energy usage, all of which will transform many sectors, such as manufacturing, transportation, public services, and health. In another example, the 5G Outlook Series: Enabling inclusive long-term opportunities looks at what can be done to ensure that 5G is a technology that benefits people, businesses, and society. The role of satellites in delivering connectivity and the challenges associated with growing competition in Earth orbit are other areas explored by the Forum. The Global Future Council on the Future of Space explores ways in which international cooperation and public-private partnerships can drive sustainable and inclusive use of space resources.

Artificial intelligence

The Forum is carrying out multiple activities in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The AI Governance Alliance brings together industry leaders, governments, academic institutions, and civil society to shape the future of AI governance. In April 2023, the Forum hosted the Responsible AI Leadership: A Global Summit on Generative AI event, which resulted in the Presidio Recommendations on Responsible Generative AI – a set of recommendations for responsible AI development, open innovation, and social progress. In addition, the Global Future Council on the Future of AI focuses on exploring the opportunities and risks associated with strong forms of AI.  

Examples of publications issued by the Forum with a focus on AI include a Blueprint for equity and inclusion in AI, a briefing paper on Data Equity: Foundational Concepts for Generative AI, and a guidebook on Harnessing the AI Revolution in Industrial Operations

The Forum also explores issues related to AI safety, security, and standards; AI ethics and values; and machine learning and predictive systems in relation to global risks and international security. We publish articles on the need to build a new social contract to ensure that technological innovation, in particular AI, is deployed safely and aligned with the ethical needs of a globalising world. We are also assisting policymakers in devising appropriate AI-related policies. For instance, we published a Framework for Developing a National Artificial Intelligence Strategy to guide governments in their efforts to elaborate strategies for the development and deployment of AI. 

In recent years, AI and its impact on national and international policy spaces have featured highly on the agenda of our annual meetings in Davos. AI is also the focus of dedicated events such as the AI Governance Summit organised in November 2023. 

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies

The Forum works on governance issues related to the equity, interoperability, security, transparency, and trust of blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT). We also analyse the relationship between blockchain and cybersecurity and international security, as well as the future of computing. We publish papers on issues such as blockchain data storage, the challenges blockchain faces and its role in security, as well as guides such as the Blockchain Development Toolkit to guide organisations through the development and deployment of blockchain solutions.

Internet of things

The Forum’s Centre for Urban Transformation explores various issues related to the implications of connected devices and smart technologies. For example, the Council on the Connected World focuses on strengthening innovation and the global governance of connected technologies to maximise the positive benefits and minimise harm for all. One specific area of work for the Council is the security of IoT devices; in 2022, the Forum facilitated a joint Statement of Support on consumer IoT device security outlining key security requirements for consumer-facing devices. In 2023, the Council published the State of the Connected World report, which tracks governance gaps related to IoT. 

The Global New Mobility Coalition explores issues related to sustainable mobility, including when it comes to the governance of shared, electric, and automated mobility. 

Other IoT-related issues that the Forum has been exploring through various publications and initiatives include the industrial internet, the safety of smart home products, and challenges associated with the concept of the internet of bodies. In cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), we published a report on Realizing the Internet of Things – a Framework for Collective Action outlining five pillars for the development of IoT: architecture and standards, security and privacy, shared value creation, organisational development, and ecosystem governance. 
We also lead the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance on Technology Governance, dedicated to promoting the responsible and ethical use of smart city technologies.

Emerging technologies

Virtual/augmented reality

The Forum’s Global Future Council on Virtual and Augmented Reality focuses on raising awareness of the positive and negative aspects of the widespread adoption of VR/AR technologies. We carry out policy research and analysis related to the impact of VR/AR on society and its security implications in publications on issues such as immersive media technologies, AR innovation in manufacturing, and privacy in the context of VR use.

The Forum also pays attention to developments related to the metaverse and issues various publications on this topic. For instance, Exploring the Industrial Metaverse: A Roadmap to  the Future provides a framework for discussing steps towards a valuable ecosystem for the industrial metaverse, while the reports on Social Implications of the Metaverse and Privacy and Safety in the Metaverse explore the implications of metaverse adoptions for individuals and society at large. These and similar publications are issued in the context of the Defining and Building the Metaverse Initiative, whose focus is on ‘guiding the development of a safe, interoperable, and economically viable metaverse’.  

Quantum computing

The Forum has created the Global Future Council on the Future of Quantum Economy, which looks into how various actors (governments, businesses, etc.) can take action to maximise the potential offered by quantum technologies. In addition, the Quantum Economy Network offers a platform for governments, businesses, and academia to shape the development of quantum technologies and prepare for their introduction into the economy. The Quantum Security initiative brings together stakeholders from governments, the private sector, academia, and non-profit organisations to exchange ideas and cooperate on issues related to promoting the secure adoption of quantum technologies. 

The Forum publishes regularly on matters related to quantum computing and quantum technologies. A few examples include the State of Quantum Computing: Building a Quantum Economy, Quantum Computing Governance Principles, and Transitioning to a Quantum-Secure Economy.

Cybercrime

Under its Centre for Cybersecurity, the Forum runs the Partnership against Cybercrime project, focused on advancing public-private partnerships (e.g. between law enforcement agencies, international organisations, cybersecurity companies, and other actors) to combat cybercrime. Outputs of the partnership include, for instance, the Recommendations for Public-Private Partnership against Cybercrime and the Cybercrime Prevention Principles for Internet Service Providers

We host a Cybercrime Atlas Initiative dedicated to strengthening coordination between the private sector and law enforcement in fighting cybercrime. 

Cybercrime also constitutes the focus of various studies and articles we have published, which delve into issues such as emerging threats and ways to tackle them. 

Network security/critical infrastructure/cybersecurity

The Forum has launched a Centre for Cybersecurity dedicated to ‘fostering international dialogues and collaboration between the global cybersecurity community both in the public and private sectors’. Multiple projects are run under this platform, such as the Cybersecurity Learning Hub and the Digital Trust initiative. The cyber resilience of critical sectors, such as electricity and the oil and gas industry, is also a focus area for us. 

The Centre also issues reports and other publications covering various cybersecurity topics. Examples include the Global Cybersecurity Outlook; the insight report on Cybersecurity, Emerging Technology, and Systemic Risks; and the Principles for Board Governance of Cyber Risk.

The Forum hosts a Global Future Council on the Future of Cybersecurity, which explores modalities for strengthening cyber risk management across economies and societies. Quantum security and digital trust are among the Council’s focus areas. 

Every year, we bring together actors from the public and private sectors to foster collaboration on making cyberspace safer and more resilient, in the framework of the Annual Meeting on Cybersecurity

Data governance

The Forum has established a Data Policy Platform under our Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, dedicated to developing innovative approaches to enable the responsible use of data.  Within this platform, the Data for Common Purpose Initiative aims to support the creation of flexible data governance models, oriented around common purposes. Examples of white papers published by the initiative include Data for Common Purpose: Leveraging Consent to Build Trust and Towards a Data Economy: An Enabling Framework

The Cross-Border Data Flows project under the Forum’s Digital Trade Initiative looks at how policymakers can advance data transfer governance arrangements while ensuring policy interoperability for data flows. 

The Forum regularly publishes reports and papers on data governance issues such as restoring trust in data, cross-border data flows, data protection and security, among others.

E-commerce and trade and digital business models

Several activities and projects run by the Forum focus on e-commerce and broader digital economy-related issues. Under our Digital Trade initiative (part of the Centre for Regions, Trade and Geopolitics), we have been exploring opportunities and challenges associated with digital trade, while also engaging in the shaping of global, regional, and industry agendas on digital trade. Projects run within the initiative include, among others, the Digital Economy Agreement Leadership Group – which aims to contribute to the growth of inclusive and sustainable digital economies, and the TradeTech project – which facilitates dialogue on public policy and regulatory practices related to digital trade. The Digital Payments for Trade and Commerce Advisory Committee – also part of the Digital Trade initiative – is dedicated to fostering interoperability, inclusivity, and coherent regulatory reforms for digital payments.

E-commerce is also tackled in studies, white papers, and events we produce, which address issues such as e-commerce in emerging markets, the impact of e-commerce on prices, and digital currencies. 

Under the Centre for the New Economy and Society, we bring together various stakeholders to promote new approaches to competitiveness in the digital economy, with a focus on issues such as education and skills, equality and inclusion, and improved economic opportunities for people.

Future of work

The future of work is a topic that spans multiple Forum activities. For instance, under the Centre for the New Economy and Society, several projects focus on issues such as education, skills, upskilling and reskilling, and equality and inclusion in the world of work. We have also launched a Reskilling Revolution Initiative, aimed at contributing to providing better jobs, education, and skills to one billion people by 2030. Projects under this platform include, among others, Education 4.0 (focused on mapping needed reforms to primary and secondary education systems), Education and Skills Country Accelerators (dedicated to advancing gender parity, promoting upskilling and reskilling, and improving education systems), and Skills-first (focused on transforming adult education and workforce skills). Also part of the Reskilling Revolution is the Future Skills Alliance, whose main objective is to facilitate the adoption of skills-first management practices and give workers a fair and equal opportunity to excel in the labour market. 

The Forum publishes regular reports on the Future of Jobs, exploring the evolution of jobs and skills and how technology and socio-economic trends shape the workplace of the future. Other notable publications and tools developed by the Forum include the white paper on Putting Skills First: A Framework for Action and the Global Skills Taxonomy.  

Digital access

The Forum’s EDISON Alliance brings together governments, businesses, academia, and civil society to advance equitable access to the digital economy and bridge digital divides. Part of the Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Alliance fosters collaboration to drive digital inclusion and accelerate the delivery of digital solutions to unserved and underserved communities, with a focus on health, education, and financial inclusion. It also provides policymakers with guidance to make informed decisions that drive financial inclusions. Tools developed by the Alliance include principles for digital health inclusion, a guidebook for digital inclusion bond financing, and a Digital Inclusion Navigator that provides access to case studies and best practices related to bridging digital divides.

Digital tools

The Forum is also active on issues related to digital currencies and their policy implications. For instance, its Digital Currency Governance Consortium focuses on exploring the macroeconomic impacts of digital currencies and informing approaches to regulating digital currencies. The Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Policy-Makers Toolkit, published in 2020, is intended to serve as a possible framework to ensure that the deployment of CBDCs takes into account potential costs and benefits. Various publications have been issued that explore topics such as the

Cryptocurrencies

The Forum is also active on issues related to digital currencies and their policy implications. For instance, its Digital Currency Governance Consortium focuses on exploring the macroeconomic impacts of digital currencies and informing approaches to regulating digital currencies. The Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Policy-Makers Toolkit, published in 2020, is intended to serve as a possible framework to ensure that the deployment of CBDCs takes into account potential costs and benefits. Various publications have been issued that explore topics such as the

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Acronym: OHCHR

Address: Palais Wilson 52, Rue des Pâquis, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.ohchr.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other related UN human rights entities, namely the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures, and the Treaty Bodies are considered together under this section.

The UN Human Rights Office is headed by the OHCHR and is the principal UN entity on human rights. Also known as UN Human Rights, it is part of the UN Secretariat. UN Human Rights has been mandated by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to promote and protect all human rights. As such, it plays a crucial role in supporting the three fundamental pillars of the UN: peace and security, human rights, and development. UN Human Rights provides technical expertise and capacity development in regard to the implementation of human rights, and in this capacity assists governments in fulfilling their obligations.

UN Human Rights is associated with a number of other UN human rights entities. To illustrate, it serves as the secretariat for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Treaty Bodies. The UNHRC is a body of the UN that aims to promote the respect of human rights worldwide. It discusses thematic issues, and in addition to its ordinary session, it has the ability to hold special sessions on serious human rights violations and emergencies. The ten Treaty Bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties.

The UNHRC established the Special Procedures, which are made up of UN Special Rapporteurs (i.e. independent experts or working groups) working on a variety of human rights thematic issues and country situations to assist the efforts of the UNHRC through regular reporting and advice. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), under the auspices of the UNHRC, is a unique process that involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states, providing the opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries. UN Human Rights also serves as the secretariat to the UPR process.

Certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions participate as observers in UNHRC sessions after receiving the necessary accreditation.

Digital activities

Digital issues are increasingly gaining prominence in the work of UN Human Rights, the UNHRC, the Special Procedures, the UPR, and the Treaty Bodies.

A landmark document that provides a blueprint for digital human rights is the UNHRC resolution (A/HRC/20/8) on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet, which was first adopted in 2012, starting a string of regular resolutions with the same name addressing a growing number of issues. All resolutions affirm that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. Numerous other resolutions and reports from UN human rights entities and experts considered in this overview tackle an ever-growing range of other digital issues including the right to privacy in the digital age; freedom of expression and opinion; freedom of association and peaceful assembly; the rights of older persons; racial discrimination; the rights of women and girls; human rights in the context of violent extremism online; economic, social, and cultural rights; human rights and technical standard-setting; business and human rights; and the safety of journalists.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence

In 2018, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression presented a report to the UNGA on Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technologies and Implications for the Information Environment. Among other things, the document addresses the role of AI in the enjoyment of freedom of opinion and expression including ‘access to the rules of the game when it comes to AI-driven platforms and websites’ and therefore urges for a human rights-based approach to AI.

For her 2020 thematic report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance analysed different forms of racial discrimination in the design and use of emerging technologies, including the structural and institutional dimensions of this discrimination. She followed up with reports examining how digital technologies, including AI-driven predictive models, deployed in the context of border enforcement and administration reproduce, reinforce, and compound racial discrimination.

In 2020, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination published its General Recommendation No. 36 on preventing and combating racial profiling by law enforcement officials (CERD/C/GC/36), which focuses on algorithmic decision-making and AI in relation to racial profiling by law enforcement officials.

In 2021, UN Human Rights published a report analysing how AI impacts the enjoyment of the right to privacy and other human rights. It clarifies measures that states and businesses should take to ensure that AI is developed and used in ways that benefit human rights and prevent and mitigate harm.

The UN Human Rights B-Tech project is running a Generative AI project that demonstrates the ways in which the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights should guide more effective understanding, mitigation, and governance of the risks associated with generative AI.

UN Human Rights also weighs in on specific policy and regulatory debates, such as by an open letter concerning the negotiations of a European Union AI Act.

Child safety online Within the work of the OHCHR, ‘child safety online’ is referred to as ‘rights of the child’ and dealt with as a human rights issue.

The issue of child safety online has garnered the attention of UN human rights entities for some time. A 2016 resolution on Rights of the Child: Information and Communications Technologies and Child Sexual Exploitation adopted by the UNHRC calls on states to ensure ‘full, equal, inclusive, and safe access […] to information and communications technologies by all children and safeguard the protection of children online and offline’, as well as the legal protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation online. The Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography, and other child sexual abuse material, mandated by the UNHRC to analyse the root causes of sale and sexual exploitation and pro- mote measures to prevent it, also looks at issues related to child abuse, such as the sexual exploitation of children online, which has been addressed in a report (A/ HRC/43/40) published in 2020, but also in earlier reports.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child published its General Comment No. 25 on Children’s Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment (CRC/C/GC/25), which lays out how states parties should implement the convention in relation to the digital environment and provides guidance on relevant legislative, policy, and other measures to ensure full compliance with their obligations under the convention and optional protocols in the light of opportunities, risks, and challenges in promoting, respecting, protecting, and fulfilling all children’s rights in the digital environment.

Data governance

UN Human Rights maintains an online platform consisting of a number of databases on anti-discrimination and jurisprudence, as well as the Universal Human Rights Index (UHRI), which provides access to recommendations issued to countries by Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and the UPR of the UNHCR.

UN Human Rights also published a report titled A Human Rights-Based Approach to Data – Leaving no one Behind in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that specifically focuses on issues of data collection and disaggregation in the context of sustainable development.

UN Human Rights has worked closely with partners across the UN system in contributing to the Secretary-General’s 2020 Data Strategy, and co-leads, with the Office of Legal Affairs and UN Global Pulse, work on the subsequent Data Protection and Privacy Program.

Capacity development

UN Human Rights launched the Guiding Principles in Technology Project (B-Tech Project) to provide guidance and resources to companies operating in the technology space with regard to the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs on BHR). Following the publication of a B-Tech scoping paper in 2019, several foundational papers have delved into a broad range of business-related issues, from business-model-related human rights risks to access to remedies. At the heart of the B-Tech project lies multistakeholder engagement, informing all of its outputs. The B-Tech project is enhancing its engagement in Africa, working with technology company operators, investors, and other key digital economy stakeholders, including civil society, across Africa in a set of African economies and their tech hubs to create awareness of implementing the UNGPs on BHR.

Following a multistakeholder consultation held on 7–8 March 2022, the High Commissioner presented her report on UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Technology Companies (A/HRC/50/56), which demonstrated the value and practical application of the UNGPs in preventing and addressing adverse human rights impacts by technology companies.

Extreme poverty Within the work of the OHCHR, ‘extreme poverty’ is dealt with as a human rights issue.

The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has in recent years increased his analysis of human rights issues arising in the context of increased digitisation and automation. His 2017 report to the General Assembly tackled the socio-economic challenges in an emerging world where automation and AI threaten traditional sources of income and analysed the promises and possible pitfalls of introducing a universal basic income. His General Assembly report in 2019 addressed worrying trends in connection with the digitisation of the welfare state. Moreover, in his 2022 report to the UNHRC on non-take-up of rights in the context of social protection, the Special Rapporteur highlighted, among other things, the benefits and considerable risks associated with automation of social protection processes.

Content policy

Geneva-based human rights organisations and mechanisms have consistently addressed content policy questions, in particular in the documents referred under Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association. Other contexts where content policy plays an important role include Rights of the Child, Gender Rights Online, and Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, the use of digital technologies in the context of terrorism and violent extremism is closely associated with content policy considerations.

UN Human Rights, at the request of the UNHRC, prepared a compilation report in 2016, which explores, among other issues, aspects related to the prevention and countering of violent extremism online, and underscores that responses to violent extremism that are robustly built on human rights are more effective and sustainable.

Additional efforts were made in 2019 when the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism published a report where she examined the multifaceted impacts of counter-terrorism measures on civic space and the rights of civil society actors and human rights defenders, including measures taken to address vaguely defined terrorist and violent extremist content. In July 2020, she published a report discussing the human rights implications of the use of biometric data to identify terrorists and recommended safeguards that should be taken.

Interdisciplinary approaches

Collaboration within the UN system

UN Human Rights is leading a UN system-wide process to develop a human rights due diligence (HRDD) guidance for digital technology, as requested by the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and his Call to Action for Human Rights. The HRDD guidance in development pertains to the application of human rights due diligence and human rights impact assessment related to the UN’s design, development, procurement, and use of digital technologies, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

As part of the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, UN Human Rights launched the UN Hub for Human rights and Digital Technology, which provides a central repository of authoritative guidance from various UN human rights mechanisms on the application of human rights norms to the use and governance of digital technologies.

In addition, UN Human Rights is a member of the Legal Identity Agenda Task Force, which promotes solutions for the implementation of SDG target 16.9 (i.e. by 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration). It leads its work on exclusion and discrimination in the context of digitised identity systems.

Neurotechnology

Rapid advancements in neurotechnology and neuroscience, while holding promises of medical benefits and scientific breakthroughs, present a number of human rights and ethical challenges. Against this backdrop, UN Human Rights has been contributing significantly to an inter-agency process led by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General to develop a global roadmap for effective and inclusive governance of neurotechnology.

Secretary-General’s Report on Our Common Agenda

Since the adoption of A/RES/76/6 on Our Common Agenda in November 2021, the follow-up by the UN system has been underway. UN Human Rights is co-leading several proposals in collaboration with other entities, notably on the application of the human rights framework in the digital sphere, mitigation and prevention of internet shutdowns, and disinformation.

Smart Cities

Making Cities Right for Young People” is a participatory research project, supported by the Botnar Foundation, which examines the impact of the digitalisation of cities on the enjoyment of human rights. It also examines strategies to ensure that “smartness” is measured not solely by technological advancements but by the realisation and promotion of inhabitants’ human rights and well-being, and explores ways to promote digital technologies for civic engagement, participation, and the public good, with a focus on meaningful youth participation in decision-making processes. Launched in 2023, this project will survey the current landscape and detail key human rights issues in urban digitalisation. Based on participatory research carried out in three geographically, socially, culturally, and politically diverse cities, it will produce a report with initial findings and develop a roadmap for future human-rights-based work on smart cities.

Migration

In September 2023, UN Human Rights published a study, conducted with the University of Essex, that analyses the far-reaching human rights implications of specific border technologies. It provides recommendations for states and stakeholders on how to take a human-rights-based approach in ensuring the use of digital technologies at borders aligns with international human rights law and standards. The study draws from a collective body of expertise, research, and evidence, as well as extensive interviews and collaborative meetings with experts.

The UNHRC has also mandated the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to address the issue of online privacy in its Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age from 2015 (A/HRC/RES/28/16). To illustrate, the Special Rapporteur has addressed the question of privacy from the stance of surveillance in the digital age (A/HRC/34/60), which becomes particularly challenging in the context of cross-border data flows. More recently, specific attention has been given to the privacy of health data that is being produced more and more in the day and age of digitalisation, and that requires the highest legal and ethical standards (A/HRC/40/63). In this vein, in 2020, the Special Rapporteur examined data protection and surveillance in relation to COVID-19 and contact tracing in his preliminary report (A/75/147), in which he provided a more definitive analysis of how pandemics can be managed with respect to the right to privacy (A/76/220) in 2021. In another

Privacy and data protection

Challenges to the right to privacy in the digital age, such as surveillance, communications interception, and the increased use of data-intensive technologies, are among some of the issues covered by the activities of UN Human Rights. At the request of the UNGA and the UNHRC, the High Commissioner prepared four reports on the right to privacy in the digital age. The first report, presented in 2014, addressed the threat to human rights caused by surveillance by governments, in particular mass surveillance. The ensuing report, published in September 2018, identified key principles, standards, and best practices regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy. It outlined minimum standards for data privacy legal frameworks. In September 2021, the High Commissioner presented a ground-breaking report on AI and the right to privacy (A/HRC/48/31), in which she called for a ban on AI applications that are incompatible with international human rights law, and stressed the urgent need for a moratorium on the sale and use of AI systems that pose serious human rights risks until adequate safeguards are put in place. In September 2022, the High Commissioner presented a report focusing on the abuse of spyware by public authorities, the key role of encryption in ensuring the enjoyment of human rights in the digital age, and the widespread monitoring of public spaces.

The UNHRC also tackles online privacy and data protection. Resolutions on the promotion and protection of human rights on the internet have underlined the need to address security concerns on the internet in accordance with international human rights obligations to ensure the protection of all human rights online, including the right to privacy. The UNHRC has also adopted specific resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age, addressing issues such as mass surveillance, AI, the responsibility of business enterprises, and the key role of the right to privacy as an enabler of other human rights. Resolutions on the safety of journalists have emphasised the importance of encryption and anonymity tools for journalists to freely exercise their work. Two resolutions on new and emerging technologies (2019 and 2021) have further broadened the lens, for example by asking for a report on the human rights implications of technical standard-setting processes.

The UNHRC has also mandated the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to address the issue of online privacy in its Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age from 2015 (A/HRC/RES/28/16). To illustrate, the Special Rapporteur has addressed the question of privacy from the stance of surveillance in the digital age (A/HRC/34/60), which becomes particularly challenging in the context of cross-border data flows. More recently, specific attention has been given to the privacy of health data that is being produced more and more in the day and age of digitalisation, and that requires the highest legal and ethical standards (A/HRC/40/63). In this vein, in 2020, the Special Rapporteur examined data protection and surveillance in relation to COVID-19 and contact tracing in his preliminary report (A/75/147), in which he provided a more definitive analysis of how pandemics can be managed with respect to the right to privacy (A/76/220) in 2021. In another

South Centre

Address: Chem. de Balexert 7-9, 1219 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://southcentre.int

Established in 1995, the South Centre is an intergovernmental policy research think tank composed of and accountable to developing country member states. It researches key policy development issues and supports developing countries to effectively participate in international negotiating processes that are relevant to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The South Centre promotes the unity of the Global South in such processes while recognising the diversity of national interests and priorities.

The South Centre works on a wide range of issues relevant to countries in the Global South and the global community in general, such as sustainable development, climate change, South-South cooperation (SSC), financing for development, innovation and intellectual property, traditional knowledge, access to medicines, health, biodiversity, trade, investment agreements, international tax cooperation, human rights, gender, and the fourth industrial revolution.

Within the limits of its capacity and mandate, the South Centre also responds to requests for policy advice and technical and other support from its members and other developing countries.

The South Centre has observer status in several international organisations.

Digital activities

Innovation and development is one of the issue areas the South Centre works on. As part of its efforts within this domain, it focuses on information technologies. Moreover, digital issues are also tackled in the domain of, inter alia, taxation and the digital economy, data governance, e-commerce, and the fourth industrial revolution.

The South Centre has produced deliverables/research outputs in the following areas: digital and financial inclusion, digital economy, digital taxation, digital industrialisation, and digital trade, among others.

Digital policy issues

Intellectual property rights

In June 2019, it published a policy brief on Intellectual Property and Electronic Commerce: Proposals in the WTO and Policy Implications for Developing Countries, in which it gave an overview of discussions within the WTO on IP and its potential implications for the digital economy.

In September 2020, the South Centre published a research paper on Data in Legal Limbo: Ownership, Sovereignty, or a Digital Public Goods Regime? and in 2022, a research paper on The Liability of Internet Service Providers for Copyright Infringement in Sri Lanka: A Comparative Analysis.

Additional research will be published on IP and digital-related topics in the coming year.

E-commerce and trade

The digital economy is another issue researched by the South Centre in the context of development. For instance, in 2017 it published an analytical note The WTO’s Discussions on Electronic Commerce, in which it explores the stance of developing countries (i.e. readiness in terms of infrastructure, upskilling, etc.) to engage in cross-border e-commerce. Among other things, it highlights challenges such as low information technology (IT) adoption and the lack of electricity supply that limit the uptake of e-commerce activities in Africa for instance. Another analytical note published that same year tackles the impact of the digital economy on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and looks into the type of e-commerce rules that could best serve the interests of MSMEs.

The South Centre also provides analyses and organises many meetings to discuss issues such as the WTO E-Commerce Moratorium and the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) plurilateral discussions on e-commerce.

In 2019, it addressed issues on the regulation of the digital economy in developing countries, namely, the future of work, market dynamics, and data and privacy protection.

The South Centre recently published a research paper on the WTO Moratorium on Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions. This paper highlights the adverse impacts of the continuing moratorium on developing and least developed countries. Because of the moratorium, almost all developing and least developed countries are losing tariff revenues at a time when they are most needed. With no clarity on the definition of electronic transmissions and thereby on the scope of the moratorium, its continuation can lead to substantive tariff revenue losses for developing and least developed countries in the future.

The South Centre recently issued a statement on the landmark shift of the US Trade Representative’s decision to rein in the Big Tech digital trade agenda under the E-Commerce Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) negotiations.

The South Centre also monitors developments and participates in discussions in the field and across international organisations in Geneva, including the UNCTAD eTrade for All initiative.

In 2022, the South Centre organised/co-organised two sessions during UNCTAD eCommerce week: Data Regulation: Implications for the Digitization of the Economy and Development and Exploring a Global Framework for Data Governance. The South Centre Executive Director also participated in the eTrade for All Leadership Dialogue. See the Centre’s contribution here.

Taxation

The taxation of the digital economy is the single biggest issue in international taxation today. Countries around the world are trying to find solutions for taxing Big Tech companies that operate with very different business models owing to which they are able to escape taxation under outdated international tax rules meant for a brick-and-mortar economy. The key solution being negotiated is known as Amount A of Pillar One of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Two Pillar solution. The South Centre has been actively involved in Amount A negotiations, briefing its member states and submitting comments on every single set of Model Rules that have been put out for public comment, articulating the concerns and issues of developing countries. In 2022, we published the world’s first set of country-level revenue estimates on Amount A contrasted with the UN solution of Article 12B of the UN Model Tax Convention. The revenue estimates were published for the member states of the South Centre and the African Union, with whom the study was jointly conducted. We are coming up with a revised set of revenue estimates based on the latest version of Amount A for our member states and these will be released in late 2023. In October 2023, we published another Policy Brief titled Beyond the Two Pillar Proposals: A Simplified Approach for Taxing Multinationals, which offers an alternative policy solution different from those of the UN and the OECD.

We also published a Policy Brief in June 2023 titled Taxation of Digital Services: What hope for the African States? which argues that African countries need to improve digital connectivity to be able to collect more taxes under the OECD digital tax solution of Amount A. This is because the revenue sourcing rules of Amount A allocate profits using digital indicators such as viewing of advertisements, IP addresses, etc.

In the UN Tax Committee, we participated in the 26th Session in New York where we mobilised the developing country members through peer exchanges and briefings and also participated in the negotiations to promote the interests of our member states and other developing countries, inter alia, on the taxation of the digital economy. 

Ahead of the UN Tax Committee session, we published a study on the taxation of computer software. The study on computer software showed that 34 of the South Centre’s member states could have collected $1 billion in taxes in 2020 from computer software sales had there been the corresponding standards by the UN. The Brief helped mobilise developing country support and bring to a close a 20-year negotiation on the taxation of computer software.

We also published a Policy Brief titled Conceptualizing Remote Worker Permanent Establishment, which provided an innovative solution for taxing the emerging phenomenon of Work From Home/Work From Anywhere. 

The UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts on the Digital Economy invited the South Centre to present to UN member states the policy options for taxing the digital economy. Our presentation was so appreciated that the governments of Palestine and Cambodia immediately requested capacity building on the subject.

Given our expertise in the taxation of the digital economy, we co-organised in June 2023 a Group of Twenty (G20)-South Centre event on international taxation. This was on capacity building for Indian tax officials on the Two Pillar solution and the international tax standards being negotiated in the UN. This was also our first G20 event, and was widely praised and appreciated by the Indian participants. We mobilised international tax experts from across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to share their perspectives on these topics with Indian officials.

We partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to co-organise a Capacity Building Workshop on the taxation of the digital economy in May 2023. The two organisations shared the policy options available to Sri Lanka to tax the digital economy, which included a Digital Services Tax. The workshop was so impactful that within a few days the government introduced a digital services tax and in the record time of two months got it passed by Parliament. We remained engaged and provided technical briefs to the Sri Lankan Parliament, particularly the Finance Committees.

We were also invited to participate in the Addis Tax Initiative (ATI) General Assembly in Zambia where we provided capacity building on ATI member states on the taxation of the digital economy. After the workshop, the Finance Ministry of Zambia reached out to the South Centre Tax Initiative (SCTI) for detailed policy advice.

Multiple news channels and agencies regularly solicit the South Centre’s views on the concerns of the developing countries in international tax negotiations on the taxation of the digital economy.

Sustainable development

The South Centre has delved into the interplay between digital technologies and development on several occasions through its research outputs. In 2006, it published an analytical note titled Internet Governance for Development, arguing that affordable access to the internet allows for better education opportunities, greater access to information, improved private and public services, and stronger cultural diversity. More specifically, the document provided recommendations on issues such as openness (e.g. leaving the policy space open for developing countries), diversity (e.g. multilingualism), and security (e.g. funding of computer security incident response teams (CSIRTs)) to maximise the outcomes of discussions for developing countries at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

A year later, the South Centre published the research paper Towards a Digital Agenda for Developing Countries, in which it looks into the conditions, rights, and freedoms necessary for developing countries to benefit from digital and Internet resources. By bringing together several different strands of ongoing discussions and analyses at the national and international levels, it provides a direction for further research and policy analysis by laying the groundwork and creating awareness of the relevance and scope of digital and internet content for policymakers in developing countries.

In 2020, the South Centre continued to research the impact of digital technologies in the context of development. Its research paper The Fourth Industrial Revolution in Developing Nations: Challenges and Roadmap tackles trends in emerging technologies such as big data, robotics, and the internet of things (IoT), and identifies challenges, namely, the lack of infrastructure, a trained and skilled workforce, scalability, and funding faced by developing countries. It goes on to propose a strategic framework for responding to the fourth industrial revolution, which focuses on capacity building, technology incubations, scientific development, and policymaking.

Discussions towards the adoption of a Global Digital Compact (GDC) have been included as one of the proposals made by the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) in his report Our Common Agenda (A/75/982). The main objective of this proposal is “to protect the online space and strengthen its governance” based on “shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all”. The issue of digital governance is quite complex and includes the need to reaffirm the fundamental commitment to connecting the unconnected; avoiding fragmentation of the internet; providing people with options as to how their data is used; applying human rights online; and promoting the regulation of AI. 

The need to guarantee the implementation of human rights online requires that discussions leading towards the GDC are conducted with upmost transparency, public disclosure, and accountability. Likewise, the private IT sector must respect human rights, apply human rights due diligence and increased accountability, and allow broader oversight from the state and civil society. In some instances, public-private partnerships (PPPs) can be a useful tool to support an inclusive digital transformation, but public participation and oversight of PPPs, guided by strong principles of transparency and the protection and respect for human rights, are necessary to support the transfer of technology, skills, and knowledge needed to promote an inclusive digital transformation. The South Centre has actively engaged with other partners to strengthen multilateralism in this process and to limit the detrimental impacts of multistakeholderism in global governance.  

The South Centre combines expertise in global matters of governance in the discussion of the GDC with the objective of strengthening multilateralism through an intergovernmental process that protects the voices of developing and least-developed countries. We prepared a submission to the GDC on applying Human Rights Online. In addition, our forthcoming research paper considers the discussion on the GDC, the current fragmentation of digital governance from the perspective of developing countries, and the need to increase international cooperation directed towards digital transformation, while highlighting the need to address climate change, the protection of human rights, and inclusiveness as the most relevant issues for developing countries today. 

In light of the global health pandemic, the South Centre, as part of its publication series South Views, shared the perspectives of developing countries on digital health. its challenges and recommendations to overcome these, and harnessing digital technology for education in developing countries, A SouthViews on Access to Medical Equipment in a Pandemic Situation: Importance of Localized Supply Chains and 3D Printing was also published.

In 2020 and 2021, a SouthViews on Technology and Inequality: Can We Decolonise the Digital World?, on Digital Transformation: Prioritizing Data Localization, and An Introduction to the UN Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries were also published.

A Public Health Approach to Intellectual Property Rights is a virtual help desk on the use of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities for public health purposes.

The South Centre has general and specific emailing lists and is moving to institutionally become a paperless organisation.

Future of meetings

In the COVID-19 global pandemic, the South Centre has increasingly used Zoom and Microsoft Teams for online meetings and webinars.

See meetings that the South Centre has organised at https://www.southcentre.int/category/events/the-south-centre-events and https://ipaccessmeds.southcentre.int/ event/ and https://taxinitiative.southcentre.int/event/

Social media channels

Facebook @South Centre

Instagram @southcentre_gva

LinkedIn @South Centre, Geneva

X @South_Centre

YouTube @SouthCentre GVA

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Acronym: UNCTAD

Established: 1964

Address: Palais des Nations, Av. de la Paix 8-14, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

UNCTAD is a UN body dedicated to supporting developing countries in accessing the benefits of a globalised economy more fairly and effectively. It provides analysis, facilitates consensus building, and offers technical assistance, thus helping countries use trade, investment, finance, and technology to support inclusive and sustainable development.

UNCTAD also works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs), through a wide range of activities in areas such as technology and innovation, trade, investment, environment, transport and logistics, and the digital economy. It places special emphasis on supporting the most vulnerable developing countries, including least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), small island developing states (SIDS), and African countries to build resilience to economic shocks and to achieve structural economic transformation.

UNCTAD’s work often results in analyses, statistics, and recommendations that inform national and international policymaking processes, and contribute to promoting economic policies aimed at ending global economic inequalities and generating human-centric sustainable development.

Digital activities

UNCTAD is particularly active in the field of e-commerce, trade, and the digital economy, carrying out a wide range of activities from research and analysis to providing assistance to member states in developing adequate legislative and regulatory frameworks and facilitating international dialogue on the development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy.

UNCTAD also works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the SDGs, in particular through (but not limited to) its activities in the field of science, technology, and innovation (STI) for development. Consumer protection, gender equality, productive capacity building, and privacy and data protection are other digital policy areas where UNCTAD is active.

Digital policy issues

Data governance

As data has become a key resource in the digital economy, data governance is a fundamental part of the work of UNCTAD. This is illustrated, for example, in the research and analysis work of the Digital Economy Report 2019, which focused on the role of data as the source of value in the digital economy and how it is created and captured and the Digital Economy Report 2021, which analysed cross-border data flows and development. Moreover, some of UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and digital trade touches specifically on privacy and data protection issues. For instance, the eCommerce and Law Reform work dedicated to supporting developing countries in their efforts to establish adequate legal frameworks for e-commerce also covers data protection and privacy among the key issues addressed. The Global Cyberlaw Trackers offers information on data protection laws in UNCTAD member states.

Also relevant for data governance discussions is UNCTAD’s work on statistics, as the organisation collects and analyses a wide range of data and statistics on issues such as economic trends,  international trade, investment, development, and the digital economy. UNCTAD’s statistical capacity development activities help countries enhance their statistical and data infrastructures and often address issues of data governance, such as statistical confidentiality, access to data, and privacy protection. UNCTAD also contributes actively to global work to enhance data governance in statistics and beyond and to develop universal principles to guide the collection, dissemination, use, and storage of data.

UNCTAD makes its data and statistics available as open-source in the UNCTADstat data centre. Statistics underpin UNCTAD’s analytical work and are featured in many publications. The UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics disseminates key messages from UNCTAD’s statistics including infographics and UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In addition, Development and Globalization Facts and Figures publications provide thematic updates on topical issues with the latest number focusing on SIDS. To provide timely information on the global economy and trade, UNCTAD Statistics publishes a weekly Trade and Economy Nowcast.

UNCTAD is also running several projects focused on improving the efficiency of data management for example by developing a plug-and-play system to compile Trade in Services Statistics, its activities in the Digitising Global Maritime Trade project, and by supporting customs operations with the Automated System for Customs Data. UNCTAD’s own statistical activities are governed by the UNCTAD Statistics Quality Assurance Framework, which is aligned with principles governing international statistical activities.

E-commerce and trade

UNCTAD’s work programme on e-commerce and the digital economy (ECDE Programme), encompasses several research and analysis, consensus-building, and technical assistance activities, as follows:

Research and analysis

UNCTAD conducts research and analysis on e-commerce and the digital economy and their implications for trade and development. These are mainly presented in its flagship publication, the Digital Economy Report (known as the Information Economy Report until 2017), and in its Technical Notes on ICT for Development. The Technology and Innovation Report, another flagship publication, highlights the need to build science, technology, and innovation capabilities as prerequisites to enabling developing countries and LDCs to adopt and adapt frontier technologies, including digital technologies.

Consensus building on e-commerce and digital economy policies

UNCTAD’s Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy meets regularly to discuss ways to strengthen the development dimension of e-commerce and the digital economy. The group’s meetings are usually held in conjunction with UNCTAD eWeek an annual event hosted by UNCTAD featuring discussions on development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy.

UNCTAD also serves as a knowledge partner to the deliberations of the G20 Digital Economy Working Group on Data Free Flow with Trust and Cross-border Data Flows.

Under the auspices of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), UNCTAD provides substantive work on the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) – a unique two-phase UN summit that was initiated to create an evolving multistakeholder platform to address the issues raised by information and communications technologies (ICTs) through a structured and inclusive approach at the national, regional, and international levels.

To that end, the CSTD:

  • Reviews and assesses progress at the international and regional levels in the implementation of action lines, recommendations, and commitments contained in the outcome documents of the Summit.
  • Shares best and effective practices and lessons learned and identifies obstacles and constraints encountered, and actions and initiatives to overcome them alongside important measures for further implementation of the Summit outcomes.
  • Promotes dialogue and fosters partnerships, in coordination with other appropriate UN funds, programmes and specialised agencies, to contribute to the attainment of the Summit.
  • Monitors objectives and the implementation of its outcomes and the use of ICTs for development and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, with the participation of governments, the private sector, civil society, the UN, and other international organisations in accordance with their different roles and responsibilities.

E-Commerce assessments and strategy formulation

The eTrade Readiness Assessments (eT Readies) assist LDCs and other developing countries in understanding their e-commerce readiness in key policy areas to better engage in and benefit from e-commerce. The assessments provide recommendations to overcome identified barriers and bottlenecks to growth and enjoying the benefits of digital trade.

UNCTAD’s work on ICT policy reviews and national strategies involves technical assistance, advisory services, diagnostics, and strategy development on e-commerce, and national ICT planning at the request of governments. Through an analysis of the infrastructural, policy, regulatory, institutional, operational, and socio-economic landscape, the reviews help governments to overcome weaknesses and bureaucratic barriers, leverage strengths and opportunities, and put in place relevant strategies.

Legal frameworks for e-commerce

UNCTAD’s e-commerce and law reform work helps to develop an understanding of the legal issues underpinning e-commerce through a series of capacity-building workshops for policymakers at the national and regional levels. Concrete actions include assistance in establishing domestic and regional legal regimes to enhance trust in online transactions, regional studies on cyber laws harmonisation, and the global mapping of e-commerce legislation through its Global Cyberlaw Tracker.

Measuring the information economy

UNCTAD’s work on measuring the information economy includes statistical data collection and the development of methodology, as well as linking statistics and policy through the Working Group on Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy, established by the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-Commerce and the Digital Economy. Figures are published in the biennial Digital Economy Report and the UNCTADstat Data Centre. Technical cooperation here aims to strengthen the capacity of national statistical systems to produce better, more reliable, and internationally comparable statistics on the following issues: ICT use by enterprises, size and composition of the ICT sector, and e-commerce and international trade in ICT-enabled services.

Smart partnerships through eTrade for all

The eTrade for all initiative (eT4a) is a global collaborative effort of 35 partners to scale up cooperation, transparency, and aid efficiency towards more inclusive e-commerce.  Its main tool is an online platform (etradeforall.org), a knowledge-sharing and information hub that facilitates access to a wide range of information and resources on e-commerce and the digital economy. It offers a gateway for matching the suppliers of technical assistance with those in need. Beneficiaries can connect with potential partners, and learn about trends,  best practices,  up-to-date e-commerce indicators,  and upcoming events all in one place. The initiative also acts as a catalyst of partnership among its members for increased synergies. This collaboration has concretely translated into the participation of several eT4a partners as key contributors to the various UNCTAD e Week organised by UNCTAD and in the conduct and review of eTrade Readiness Assessments.

Market access and rules of origin for least developed countries

LDCs are granted preferential tariff treatment in the markets of developed and developing countries under several schemes and arrangements. Since its inception, UNCTAD has assisted governments in developing preferential rules of origin (RoO). UNCTAD assists governments and regional economic communities, as well as the AfCFTA Secretariat, in negotiating and drafting their RoO. Most recently, UNCTAD’s technical assistance has focused on the implementation of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) 2005 Hong Kong decision on Duty-free, Quota-free (DFQF) market access, and understanding and drafting RoO.

UNCTAD has undertaken extensive research on DFQF and RoO. The UNCTAD Database on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) provides information on trade statistics, rules of origin, and tariff offers under AfCFTA at the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) subheading (6-digit) level The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System – commonly known as the Harmonized System or HS – is an internationally standardised nomenclature for the description, classification, and coding of goods.. The database enables automatic data visualisation to create a snapshot of the object of interest and matching trade statistics within the AfCFTA tariff offers, and product-specific rules of origin where available.

The UNCTAD Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) utilisation database provides information on the utilisation of the GSP schemes as well as other trade preferences granted to developing countries and LDCs under GSP, DFQF arrangements, and trade preferences under reciprocal free trade agreements (FTAs).

UNCTAD serves as co-lead of the

Consumer protection Consumer protection and competition are jointly addressed in the work of UNCTAD

Through its Competition and Consumer Policies Programme, UNCTAD works to assist countries in improving their competition and consumer protection policies. It provides a forum for intergovernmental deliberations on these issues; undertakes research, policy analysis and data collection; and provides technical assistance to developing countries. The Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy monitors the implementation of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection, and carries out research and provides technical assistance on consumer protection issues (including in the context of e-commerce and the digital economy). UNCTAD’s work programme on consumer protection is guided, among others, by the UN Conference of Competition and Consumer Protection (held every five years).

Given the significant imbalances in market power in the digital economy, competition policy is becoming increasingly relevant for developing countries. UNCTAD addresses this issue in the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Competition Law and Policy.

UNCTAD also runs the Research Partnership Platform, aimed at contributing to the development of best practices in the formulation and implementation of competition and consumer protection laws and policies.

UNCTAD serves as co-lead of the

World Trade Organization

Acronym: WTO

Established: 1995

Address: Centre William Rappard, Rue de Lausanne 154, 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland

Website: https://www.wto.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WTO is an intergovernmental organisation that deals with the rules of trade among its members. Its main functions include administering WTO trade agreements, providing a forum for trade negotiations, settling trade disputes, monitoring national trade policies, providing technical assistance and training for developing countries, and ensuring cooperation with other international organisations.

WTO members have negotiated and agreed upon rules regulating international trade, fostering transparency and predictability in the international trading system. The main agreements are the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

Digital activities

Several internet governance and digital trade policy-related issues are discussed in WTO. E-commerce discussions are ongoing under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and among a group of 90 WTO members currently negotiating e-commerce rules under the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-commerce. Discussions focus on several digital issues, including data flows and data localisation, source code, cybersecurity, privacy, consumer protection, capacity building, and customs duties on electronic transmissions.

As part of its outreach activities, WTO organises numerous events such as the Aid for Trade Global Review and an annual Public Forum, which brings together governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics, businesses, and other stakeholders for discussions on a broad range of issues, including many relating to the digital economy.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications

In 1997, WTO members successfully concluded negotiations on market access for basic telecommunications services, which resulted in new specific commitments in the sector for a significant part of  WTO  membership.  These negotiations also resulted in the Reference Paper, a set of regulatory principles for basic telecommunication services that various members have inscribed in their schedules of commitments. Since 1997, the number of members that have undertaken market access commitments on telecommunications and subscribed to the Reference Paper has continued to increase as a result of new governments joining WTO through the process of accession. Under the JSI negotiations, participants are discussing a proposal that seeks to update the provisions of the Reference Paper.

Digital standards The issue of digital standards is addressed as ‘standards and regulations’ within the work of WTO.

International standards are important to the global digital economy as they can enable interconnectivity and interoperability for telecommunications and internet infrastructures. The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT Agreement) aims to ensure that technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures affecting trade in goods (including telecommunications products) are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. The TBT Agreement strongly encourages that such regulatory measures be based on relevant international standards. The TBT Committee serves as a forum where governments discuss and address concerns with specific regulations, including those affecting digital trade. Examples of relevant TBT measures notified to or discussed at the TBT Committee include (1) measures addressing the internet of things (IoT) and related devices in terms of their safety, interoperability, national security/cybersecurity, performance, and quality; (2) measures regulating 5G cellular network technology for reasons related to, among others, national security and interoperability; (3) measures regulating 3D printing (additive manufacturing) devices; (4) measures regulating drones (small unmanned aircraft systems) due to risks for humans/consumers, interoperability problems, and national security risks; and (5) measures dealing with autonomous vehicles, mostly concerned with their safety and performance.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity issues have been addressed in several WTO bodies. For example, the TBT Committee has discussed national cybersecurity regulations applicable to information and communications technology (ICT) products and their potential impact on trade. In the TBT Committee, WTO members have raised specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity regulations. Some of the specific issues discussed include how cybersecurity regulations discriminating against foreign companies and technologies can negatively impact international trade in ICT products. Proposals on cybersecurity have also been tabled in the JSI on e-commerce where negotiations are ongoing.

Data governance

The growth of the global digital economy is fuelled by data. Discussions on how provisions of WTO agreements apply to data flows are ongoing among WTO members. In this context, is particularly relevant, as it applies to trade in services such as (1) data transmission and data processing by any form of technology (e.g. mobile or cloud technologies); (2) new ICT business models such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS); (3) online distribution services e.g. (e-commerce market platforms); and (4) financial services such as mobile payments. The extent to which members can impose restrictions on data or information flows affecting trade in services is determined by their GATS schedules of commitments. Under the JSI, proposals on cross-border data flows have been submitted and are being discussed. These proposals envision a general rule establishing the free flow of data for commercial activities. Proposed exceptions to this general rule are, to a large extent, similar to the existing GATS General and Security Exceptions and relate to, for example, protection of personal data, protection of legitimate public policy objectives, national security interests, and exclusion of governmental data. Issues related to data flows have also been raised by members in other contexts at the WTO, such as in the Council for Trade in Services, for instance, when national cybersecurity measures adopted have been considered by some members as trade barriers.

Intellectual property rights

The TRIPS Agreement is a key international instrument for the protection of IP and is of relevance to e-commerce. The technologies that underpin the internet and enable digital commerce such as software, routers, networks, switches, and user interfaces are protected by IP. In addition, e-commerce transactions can involve digital products with IP-protected content, such as e-books, software, or blueprints for 3D-printing. As IP licences often regulate the usage rights for such intangible digital products, the TRIPS Agreement and the international IP Conventions provide much of the legal infrastructure for digital trade.

These conventions include:

The role of IP in promoting innovation and trade in the digital age has been highlighted in recent WTO World Trade Reports.

IP-related issues are also being discussed in the JSI. Submitted proposals include text on limiting requests to the access or transfer of source code. The source code or the data analysis used in the operation of programmes or services is often legally protected by IP law through copyright, patent, or trade secret provisions. The main goal of the JSI proposals on access to source code is to prevent members from requiring access or transfer of the source code owned by a national of another member state as a condition for market access. Some exceptions to this general prohibition have also been proposed. For example, for software that is used for critical infrastructures and public procurement transactions.

Electronic commerce

WTO agreements cover a broad spectrum of trade topics, including some related to e-commerce, which has been on the WTO agenda since 1998 when the ministers adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce. The Declaration instructed the General Council to establish a Work Programme on electronic commerce. In that Declaration, members also agreed to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions (the ’moratorium’). The Work Programme provides a broad definition of e-commerce and instructs four WTO bodies (Council for Trade in Goods; Council for Trade in Services; TRIPS Council; and the Committee on Trade and Development) to explore the relationship between WTO Agreements and e-commerce. The Work Programme and the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions have been periodically reviewed and renewed. At its recently concluded 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022, WTO members agreed to reinvigorate the Work Programme, particularly in line with its development dimension, and to intensify discussions on the moratorium, including on its scope, definition, and impact. Furthermore, members agreed to extend the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions until MC13. WT/MIN(22)/32; WT/L/1143

At MC11 in 2017, a group of members issued the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-Commerce to explore work towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Following the exploratory work, in January 2019, 76 members confirmed their ‘intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce’ and to ‘achieve a high standard out- come that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible’. Negotiations are continuing among 90 members 90 Members as of end of October 2023: Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain, Kingdom of; Belgium; Benin; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Côte D’Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Gambia, Georgia; Germany; Greece; Guatemala;Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Korea, Republic of; Kuwait, the State of; Kyrgyz Republic;the State of; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Oman; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; and Uruguay and are structured under five broad themes, namely enabling e-commerce, openness and e-commerce, trust and e-commerce, cross-cutting issues, and telecommunications. JSI participants have reached a high degree of convergence on e-authentication and e-signatures, e-contracts, open government data, online consumer protection, unsolicited commercial electronic messages (spam), transparency, open internet access, paperless trading, cybersecurity, electronic transactions frameworks, e-invoicing and single windows. Negotiations on electronic transactions frameworks, source code, cybersecurity, electronic invoicing, privacy, telecommunications, and customs duties on electronic transmissions continue. On the margins of the MC12, the co-convenors of the JSI (Australia, Japan, and Singapore), issued a statement underlining the importance of developing global rules on e-commerce and, together with Switzerland, launched the E-commerce Capacity Building Framework to strengthen digital inclusion and to help developing and least developed countries to harness the opportunities of digital trade.

Access The issue of arbitration is referred to under the issue of ‘market access’ within the work of WTO.

Information Technology Agreement (ITA-I and ITA-II)

The ITA-I was concluded by 29 participants in 1996. Through this agreement, participating WTO members eliminated tariffs and other duties and charges (ODCs) on hundreds of ICT products – including computers, laptops, servers, routers, communication devices (i.e. mobile telephones),  semiconductors, semiconductor manufacturing equipment and parts thereof – to foster the development of ICT global value chains and facilitate greater adoption of the ICT products that lie at the core of a global digital economy and power the downstream innovative and competitive capacity of every industry that deploys them. Currently, 83 WTO members are participants in ITA-I, accounting for approximately 97% of world trade in ITA-I products. As technology continues to evolve, ICT is found at the core of an ever-increasing range of products. At the MC10 in Nairobi in 2015, over 50 WTO members concluded ITA-II negotiations and agreed to expand the ITA product coverage by around 200 products. ICT products such as GPS navigation equipment, satellites, and medical equipment were included and tariffs on these products have been eliminated among ITA-II participants. At present, the ITA-II consists of 55 WTO members, representing over 90% of world trade in ITA-II products. The ITA is being discussed in the JSI under the market access focus group.

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Internet Governance Forum

Acronym: IGF

Established: 2006

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://www.intgovforum.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The IGF provides the most comprehensive coverage of digital policy issues on the global level. The IGF Secretariat in Geneva coordinates both the planning of IGF annual meetings (working together with the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and the wider IGF community) and a series of intersessional activities (run all year long). These activities could be summarised in three ‘multi’ initiatives:

  • Multistakeholder participation: It involves governments, business, civil society, the technical community, academia, and other actors who affect or are affected by digital policy This diversity is reflected in IGF processes, events, and consultations.
  • Multidisciplinary coverage: It relates to addressing policy issues from technological, legal, security, human rights, economic, development, and sociocultural perspectives. For example, data, as a governance issue, is addressed from standardisation, e-commerce, privacy, and security perspectives.
  • Multilevel approach: It spans IGF deliberations from the local level to the global level, through a network of over 165 national, subregional, and regional IGF (as of November 2023). They provide context for discussions on digital policy like the real-life impact of digitalisation on policy, economic, social, and cultural fabric of local communities. The IGF Secretariat supports such initiatives (which are independent) and coordinates the participation of the overall network.

The IGF ecosystem converges around the annual IGF, which is attended by thousands of participants. The last few IGFs include Paris (2018), Berlin (2019), online edition due to the pandemic (2020), Katowice (2021), Addis Ababa (2022), and Kyoto (2023), which engaged over 11,000 participants, and more than 1,000 speakers in over 300 sessions.

The intersessional work includes best practice forums (on issues such as cybersecurity, local content, data and new technologies, and gender and access); dynamic coalitions (on issues such as community connectivity, network neutrality, accessibility and disability, and child safety online etc.); policy networks (on AI, environment, meaningful access and Internet fragmentation); and other projects such as Policy Options for Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion(s) (which ran between 2015 and 2018) as well as a number of capacity development activities.

IGF mandate

The IGF mandate was outlined in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, November 2005). It was renewed for another 10 years by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 16 December 2015, (70/125).

The main functions of the IGF are specified in Article 72 of the Tunis Agenda. The mandate of the Forum is to:

  • Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the internet.
  • Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body.
  • Interface with appropriate inter-governmental organisations and other institutions on matters under their purview.
  • Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard, make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific, and technical communities.
  • Advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world.
  • Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries.
  • Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and where appropriate, make recommendations.
  • Contribute to capacity building for internet governance in developing countries, drawing on local sources of knowledge and expertise.
  • Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in internet governance processes.
  • Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical internet resources.
  • Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the internet, of particular concern to everyday users.
  • Publish its proceedings.

In fulfilling its mandate, the Forum is institutionally supported by the UN Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum placed with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Its working modalities also include MAG and most recently the Leadership Panel, both appointed by the UN Secretary-General.

Digital policy issues

Until 2019, IGF annual meetings used to host sessions tackling a wide range of digital policy issues (for instance, IGF 2018 had eight themes: cybersecurity, trust, and privacy; development, innovation, and economic issues; digital inclusion and accessibility; human rights, gender, and youth; emerging technologies; evolution of internet governance; media and content; and technical and operational issues). In 2019, in an effort to bring more focus within the IGF, the MAG decided (considering community input) to structure the IGF programme around a limited number of tracks: security, safety, stability, and resilience; data governance; and digital inclusion. This approach was kept for IGF 2020, which saw four thematic tracks: data, environment, inclusion, and trust. The thematic approach did not mean that the IGF saw some digital policy issues as being less relevant than others, but rather that it encouraged discussions at the intersection of multiple issues. The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) Digital Watch hybrid reporting (IGF 2023) illustrates this trend, showing that the IGF discussed a wide range of policy issues (across all seven internet governance baskets of issues) within the limited number of thematic tracks.

The leadership panel

In line with the IGF mandate and as recommended in the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the UN Secretary-General established the IGF Leadership Panel as a strategic, empowered, multistakeholder body, to address urgent, strategic issues, and highlight Forum discussions and possible follow-up actions to promote greater impact and dissemination of IGF discussions.

More specifically, the Panel provides strategic inputs and advice on the IGF; promotes the IGF and its outputs; supports both high-level and at-large stakeholder engagement in the IGF and IGF fundraising efforts; exchanges IGF outputs with other stakeholders and relevant forums; and feeds input from these decision-makers and forums to the IGF’s agenda-setting process, leveraging relevant MAG expertise.

The 15-member Panel with ex-officios meet at least three times a year in person, in addition to regular online meetings.

Future of meetings

Since its first meeting in Athens (2006), the IGF has been a pioneer in online deliberation and hybrid meetings. In addition to individual online participation, the IGF has encouraged the development of a network of remote hubs where participants meet locally while following online deliberations from the global IGF. In this way the IGF has created a unique interplay between local and global deliberations through the use of technology. For hybrid meetings delivered in situ and online, the IGF developed the function of remote moderator, who ensures that there is smooth interplay between online and in situ discussions.

The 19th annual IGF meeting will be hosted by the Government of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh in December 2024. The 2025 host is yet to be announced.

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United Nations Human Rights Council

Acronym: UNHRC

Established: 2006

Address: Palais Wilson 52, rue des Pâquis, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/HRCIndex.aspx

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Human Rights Council is a United Nations intergovernmental body whose mandate is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and to make recommendations on cases of human rights violations. The Council is made up of 47 member states, as elected by the UN General Assembly. 

The Council works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the principal human rights official of the United Nation.

Freedom of expression and privacy in the online space are two of the issues covered by the Council in its activities. These have been discussed at UNHRC sessions, and covered in resolutions adopted by the Council, as well as in reports elaborated by the special rapporteurs appointed by the Council. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has issued reports on issues such as: the use of encryption and anonymity to exercise the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age; states’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the human rights to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to freedom of opinion and expression exercised through the Internet; etc. The Special Rapporteur on the righ to privacy has within its mandate the responsibility to make recommendations for the promotion and protection of the right to privacy, including in connection with challenges arising from new technologies.

See also: Africa’s participation in digital rights debates at the UN Human Rights Council

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