European Free Trade Association

Acronym: EFTA

Address: Rue de Varembé, 9-11 1211 Geneva 20 Switzerland

Website: https://www.efta.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is an intergovernmental organisation composed of four member states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Established in 1960 by the Stockholm Convention, the EFTA aims to promote free trade and economic integration between its members. Since its founding,  relations with the European Economic Community (EEC) (later the European Community (EC)) and the European Union (EU) have been at the heart of the EFTA’s activities. In 1992, three of the EFTA member states (Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein) signed the Agreement on the European Economic Area with the EU, which now make up the so-called European Economic Area (EEA).

Since the early 1990s, the EFTA has been actively engaged in trade relations with third countries in and outside of Europe.

Digital Activities

The EFTA’s activities in the context of digital issues pertain to electronic communication such as exchange of information via telecommunications and Internet, audiovisual services, and information society, including free movement of information society services as well as data protection.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

The EFTA’s Working Group on Electronic Communication, Audiovisual Services, and Information Society (ECASIS) deals with legal provisions pertaining to the digital single market.  As per the EEA agreement, EFTA member states (excluding Switzerland) participate in the EU’s internal market and as such have to apply EU rules on electronic communication and information society. Among other things, these rules include acts on radio spectrum management, roaming, privacy protection in electronic networks, and net neutrality. Initiatives regarding information society tackle legal frameworks on the free movement of information society services and apply to a wide range of economic activities that take place online. This includes rules on e-commerce, cross-border data flows, the re-use of public sector information, and cybersecurity, as well as electronic identification and signatures.

Future of work 

The EFTA also tackles the implications of digitalisation on the future of work. In a report and resolution titled ‘Digitalisation and its impact on jobs and skills’ published by the consultative committee of the EEA, it is highlighted that investments in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and new learning methods are important, including apprenticeships and workplace training. Moreover, it underlines the need to examine whether and to what extent workers’ private lives require additional protection in a time of ubiquitous digital mobile communication.

Privacy and data protection 

In the context of data protection, the EFTA’s Expert Group on Data Protection keeps track of EU initiatives in the domain of data protection that has become particularly relevant in the fast-changing digital environment. The Expert Group contributes to the development of EU policies and legislation in the field of data protection through the provision of advice to the European Commission, or by being involved in the work of the Commission’s committees, as per the EEA agreement. The EEA agreement covers EU legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the e-Privacy Directive, and Regulation 611/2013 on notifications of data breaches and is therefore applicable to the previously mentioned three EFTA states.

Digital tools

In addition to trade-related data that provides information (e.g. size of imports/exports/top traded goods) on EFTA member states, an interactive Free Trade Map illustrates EFTA’s preferential trade relations with partners worldwide. The organisation also provides a web tool containing visual presentations that explains how EU law becomes EEA law.

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

  • Yes, the EEA Joint Committee adopted a number of decisions and legal acts following the outbreak of COVID-19.

World Economic Forum

Acronym: WEF

Address: Route de la Capite, 1223 Cologny, Switzerland

Website: https://weforum.org

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a not-for-profit foundation whose membership is composed of large corporations from around the world.

The WEF engages political, business, academic, and other leaders of society in collaborative efforts to shape global, regional, and industry agendas. Together with other stakeholders, it works to define challenges, solutions, and actions in the spirit of global citizenship. It 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 WEF’s key areas of work. Under this focus, it carries out a wide range of activities covering digital policy issues, from telecom infrastructure and cybersecurity to the digital economy and the future of work. It has set up multiple platforms and global fora focused on bringing together various stakeholders and initiatives to advance debates and foster co-operation on the issues explored. It also publishes reports, studies, and white papers on its focus areas, and features discussions on the policy implications of digital technologies in the framework of its annual meeting in Davos and other events organised around the world.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

The WEF’s work in the area of telecom 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. Initiatives in this area include the Global Future Council of New Network Technologies, dedicated, among others, to exploring incentives for network development, and the EDISON Initiative (Essential Digital Infrastructure & Services Network), aimed at developing strategies to achieve 75% broadband penetration before 2025. A specific focus area for the WEF is 5G: It has identified 5G as an issue of global importance and works on analysing the impacts of 5G on industry and society. The new mobile network is tackled under initiatives such as the WEF Platform on Internet of Things, Robotics and 5G, and the 5G Global Accelerator. In its report titled The Impact of 5G: Creating New Value Across Industries and Society, the WEF notes 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.

Artificial intelligence;

The WEF is carrying out multiple activities in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The WEF Platform on AI and Machine Learning brings together actors from public and private sectors to co-design and test policy frameworks that accelerate the benefits and mitigate the risks of AI. Project areas include standards for protecting children, creating an ‘AI regulator for the twenty-first century’, and addressing the challenges of facial recognition technology. In addition, the WEF created a Global AI Council to address governance gaps and to provide policy guidance under its Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The WEF 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. The WEF extensively publishes 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. It is also assisting policymakers in devising appropriate AI-related policies. For instance, it 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 the WEF’s annual meetings in Davos.

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies 

The WEF Platform for Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) works to advance a systemic and inclusive approach to governing DLT, to ensure that everyone can benefit from these technologies. The WEF works on governance issues related to the equity, interoperability, security, transparency, and trust of DLT. It also analyses the relationship between blockchain and cybersecurity and international security, as well as the future of computing. It publishes papers on issues such as the challenges blockchain faces and its role in security. In addition, the WEF has created a Global Blockchain Council to address governance gaps and to provide policy guidance under its Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The WEF is also active on issues related to digital currencies and their policy implications. In January 2020, it created a Global Consortium for Digital Currency Governance to work on designing a framework for the governance of digital currencies, including stablecoins. It aims to facilitate access to the financial system through inclusive and innovative policy solutions. Along with the launch of the consortium, the WEF published a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Policy-Makers Toolkit, intended to serve as a possible framework to ensure that the deployment of CBDCs takes into account potential costs and benefits.

Internet of things 

The WEF Platform on Internet of Things, Robotics and 5G works with key players from the public and private sectors to accelerate the impact of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, build trust in consumer IoT, unlock the shared value of IoT data, enable an inclusive roll-out of 5G and next-generation connectivity, and promote the responsible adoption of smart city technologies. Specifically, the WEF analyses questions of IoT and data ownership, infrastructure security, and the vulnerability of IoT to cyber-attacks. In co-operation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the WEF 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. WEF also created three Global Councils related to IoT to address governance gaps and to provide policy guidance: Global Internet of Things Council, Global Drones and Aerial Mobility Council, and Global Autonomous and Urban Mobility Council.

Emerging technologies 

Virtual/augmented reality. The WEF is expanding and streamlining its work on virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) by creating the Global Future Council on Virtual and Augmented Reality, which will explore and raise awareness of the positive and negative aspects of the widespread adoption of VR/AR technologies. The WEF carries out policy research and analysis related to the impact of VR/AR on the society and its security implications in publications such as the ‘Virtual Reality Discovery’ and the ‘Industry review boards are needed to protect VR user privacy’.

Quantum computing. The WEF has created the Global Future Council on Quantum Computing, through which it intends to explore computing-related trends, including new foundational technologies and techniques for centralised and distributed processing. The forum also publishes regularly on the relationship between quantum computing and cybersecurity.

Robotics. Robotics is part of the WEF agenda under the Platform on Internet of Things, Robotics and 5G. The WEF analyses the impacts of advances in robotics in particular within the AI and IoT context. It works on co-designing, piloting, and scaling up the next generation of policies and protocols related to robotics. The WEF regularly publishes on issues such as the merging of human and machine approaches to cybersecurity and the role of robotics in warfare, and potential rules for future AI and robotics.The WEF has also created three global councils related to robotics to address governance gaps and to provide policy guidance: Global Internet of Things Council, Global Drones and Aerial Mobility Council, and Global Autonomous and Urban Mobility Council.

Data governance 

The WEF has established a Platform for Data Policy dedicated to maximising data use to benefit society while protecting users from risks associated with the data economy. Within this platform, the Building a Roadmap for Cross Border Data Flows project aims to support the development of cohesive policy frameworks and cross-border governance protocols, which ‘can accelerate societal benefits and minimise adverse risks of data flows’. The WEF regularly publishes reports on data governance issues such as restoring trust in data, cross-border data flows, data protection and security, among others.

E-commerce and trade 

Several activities and projects run by the WEF focus on e-commerce and broader digital economy-related issues. Under its Digital Trade initiative (part of its Shaping the Future of Trade and Global Economic Interdependence Platform), the WEF has proposed a set of digital economy policy proposals aimed at, among others, defining best practices for cross-border data flows and stimulating progress on e-commerce best practices. E-commerce is also tackled in studies, white papers, and events produced by the WEF, which address issues such as: e-commerce in emerging markets, the impact of e-commerce on prices, and digital currencies. The WEF has also established a Platform for Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation, aimed to ‘help companies leverage technology to be agile in the face of disruption and to create the new digitally enabled business models.’ Under the Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society, the WEF brings 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 

Future of work is a topic that spans across multiple WEF activities. For instance, under the Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society, several projects are run that focus on issues such as education, skills, upskilling and reskilling, and equality and inclusion in the world of work. The WEF has also launched a Reskilling Revolution Platform, aimed to contribute to providing better jobs, education, and skills to 1 billion people over a 10-year period. Initiatives under this platform include: Closing the Skills Gap Accelerators, Preparing for the Future of Work Industry Accelerators, the Promise of Platform Work, and Education 4.0, which are dedicated to ‘creating and piloting replicable models for action at the national, industry, organisational, and school levels.’

Cybercrime 

Under its Shaping the Future of Cybersecurity and Digital Trust Platform, the WEF runs the Partnership against Cybercrime project, focused on developing recommendations and frameworks to enhance co-operation in cybercrime investigations between law enforcement agencies, international organisations, cybersecurity companies, and other actors. In addition, the Future Series: Cybercrime 2025 programme has been put in place to understand how new technologies will change the cybersecurity and cybercrime landscape and how to address related challenges. Another important WEF project is the High Volume Cybercrime initiative, which explores ways in which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and governments can take action to reduce the harm from high volume cyber-attacks. Cybercrime also constitutes the focus

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

Acronym: IHEID

Address: Maison de la paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2A CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://graduateinstitute.ch

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies is an institution of research and higher education at the postgraduate level dedicated to the study of world affairs, with a particular emphasis on the cross-cutting fields of international relations and development issues.

Through its core activities, the Institute aims to promote international co-operation and contribute to the progress of developing societies. More broadly, it endeavours to develop creative thinking on the major challenges of our time, foster global responsibility and advance respect for diversity.

By intensely engaging with international organisations, non-governmental organisations, governments and multinational companies, the Institute participates in global discussions and prepares future policymakers to lead tomorrow’s world.

Digital Activities

As part of its main strategy, the Institute seeks to develop digitally-driven innovation in teaching and research, as well as information technology (IT) services. At the same time, as a research institution focusing on global challenges and their impacts, digitalisation has become one of its fundamental and policy-oriented research areas.

Over the years, the Institute has developed a performing IT infrastructure with secured data storage space and digital platforms (e.g. Campus, Moodle, TurntIn, Zoom, MyHR, Salesforces, Converis, etc.) to provide seamless services as well as dematerialised/paperless processes (e.g. student applications, course registration, etc.) for students, staff, and professors.

Various publications address topics related to digitalisation and its impact, such as big data, robotics, crypto mining, terrorism and social media, data in international trade and trade law, Internet governance, digital health, microfinance and Fintech, smart cities, etc.

The Institute also organises workshops, seminars, film screenings, and other events that cover Internet-related issues, ranging from the digital divide and the governance and regulatory aspects of data to cybersecurity.

Digital policy issue

Capacity development 

The Institute provides a multidisciplinary perspective on international governance, including research and teaching on Internet governance, digital trade, and artificial intelligence (AI).

In terms of teaching, its Master, PhD, and executive education courses are increasingly focused on the effects of digitalisation on society and the economy, and more generally the global system. Some examples of courses are Internet Governance and Economics’, ‘Internet Governance: the Role of International Law, Cybersecurity and Virtual Insecurity’, ‘Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work’, ‘Technology and Development’, and ‘Big Data Analysis’. Digital skills workshops are also organised for students to provide them with basic digital competence for their future professional or academic life (e.g. big data analysis, digital communication strategy, introduction to programming with Python, data analysis in various contexts, etc.)

In terms of research, a growing number of researchers and PhD candidates analyse the impact of digitalisation on international relations and development issues. A few examples of research topics are Internet and AI governance, digitalisation of trade, fintech, AI and humanitarian law, regulatory aspects of data, digital inclusion, and open government data. Some of the prominent research initiatives are listed under respective digital policy issues sections below.

The Institute also supports professors in developing pedagogical skills and in using digital tools. Workshops are offered to all faculty members at the end of the summer to prepare them for hybrid teaching and the use of new technological tools in the classroom.

Artificial intelligence 

The Institute hosts the new Digital Health and AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) directed by former Ambassador of India and Visiting Lecturer at the Institute Amandeep Gill. I-DAIR aims to create a platform to promote responsible and inclusive AI research and digital technology development for health. This platform is supported by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA).

The faculty also carries out a number of digital policy-related research projects, some of which focus on AI in particular. For example, the project titled ‘Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) and War Crimes: Who is to Bear Responsibility?’ aims to clarify whether and to what extent the requirements for ascribing criminal responsibility for the commission of an act – and in particular the key concepts of culpability theories – can be applied to the use of LAWS in combat operations. This analysis will serve to identify lacunae and inconsistencies in the current legal framework in the face of the advent of military robotics.

Sustainable development 

A number of projects carried out by the Institute’s members aim to address the relation between digital technologies and sustainable development. For instance, the ‘Modelling Early Risk Indicators to Anticipate Malnutrition’ (MERIAM) project uses computer models to test and scale up cost-effective means to improve the prediction and monitoring of undernutrition in difficult contexts.

The project ‘Governing health futures 2030: growing up in a digital world’, hosted at the Global Health Centre, explores how to ensure that digital development helps improve the health and well-being of all, and especially among children and young people. It focuses on examining integrative policies for digital health, AI, and universal health coverage to support the attainment of the third sustainable development goal.

Focusing on the Global South, the project ‘African Futures: Digital Labor and Blockchain Technology’ strengthens empirical knowledge on changing trends in employment in the region by way of a two-pronged approach to the increasingly interconnected global division of labor: i) App-based work mediated by online service platforms and ii) the use of blockchain technology in mining sites for ethical sourcing, traceability, and proof of origin.

Inclusive finance 

Projects carried out by the Institute’s members also address the role of digital technologies in enhancing financial inclusion. The project ‘Effects of Digital Economy on Banking and Finance’ studies digital innovations and how fintech extends financial services to firms and households and improves credit allocation using loan-account level data comparing the fintech and traditional banking.

Online education 

The Institute has developed digital tools (e.g. app for students, responsive website) and used digital services (e.g. social media, Facebook, Google ads, etc.) for many years in its student recruitment and communication campaigns. Digital tools are also part of the pedagogical methods to improve learning. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs, SPOCs, and podcasts, to name a few, are used by professors in master and PhD programmes, as well as in executive education.

Thanks to the above developments, the Institute was able to respond quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. In a week, the Institute moved to distance working and online teaching.

Digital tools

  • Digital collections that allow free access to historical documents, texts, and photographs on international relations from the 16th to 20th century;
  • Two free online courses (MOOC) on globalisation and global governance.
  • Podcasts showcasing professors and guests’ expertise (What Matters Today, In Conversation With, Parlons en).
  • Podcasts are also integrated into the curricula of several international history and interdisciplinary master courses to encourage students to use social network platforms to popularise their findings.

Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • Events, sessions, and seminars are held online (usually in Zoom), e.g. information sessions for admitted and prospective students are taking place online.

International Labour Organization

Acronym: ILO

Address: Rte des Morillons 4, 1211 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://ilo.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was established in 1919 and is therefore the first and oldest specialised agency of the UN. It is the only UN agency that has a tripartite structure consisting of government representatives, employers, and workers, and aims to promote labour rights, including the right to decent work. The ILO also works towards better dialogue on work-related issues and supports adequate employment opportunities.

It maintains over 20 economic sectors that are focused on industries such as health services, oil and gas production, and textiles. As part of its work, the ILO addresses many different topics including child labour, green jobs, and workplace health and safety.

Digital activities

Digital issues are present in a number of areas of the ILO’s work. One of these areas is the postal and telecommunication services sector that encompasses activities related to the Internet, in which  the ILO works on assisting governments, employers, and workers to develop policies and programmes aimed at enhancing economic opportunities and improving working conditions. It pays particular attention to major trends in this sector such as deregulation, and privatisation and how they affect the labour force. More recently, the organisation has started addressing digitalisation through topics such as skills knowledge, employability, and the future of work.

Digital policy issues

Future of work 

Perhaps the most visible digital issue in the ILO’s activities is the future of work. To address it, the ILO established the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work as part of its Future of Work Initiative. The Commission is composed of government, civil society, academia, and business association representatives. In 2019, the Commission published a landmark report titled ‘Work for a Brighter Future’ that calls for a human-centered agenda for the future of work and explores the impacts of technological progress in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics and on issues such as the gender labour gap and the automation of work. That same year, the ILO issued the ILO Centenary Declaration that, among other things, calls for ‘full and productive employment and decent work’ in the context of the digital transformation of work, including platform work.

The ILO has published several other research documents and reports on the subject including ‘Digital labour platforms and the future of work: Towards decent work in the online world’ that tackles working conditions on digital platforms and ‘Global employment trends for youth in 2020: Technology and the future of jobs’ that covers inequalities in youth labour markets arising from digital transformation, as well as investment in young people’s skills and many other underlying questions.

Through the non-standard forms of employment topic, the ILO also addresses crowdwork and the gig economy, as well as working from home (e.g. teleworking).

Privacy and data protection 

In regard to privacy and data protection, the ILO has published a set of principles on protection of workers’ personal data that tackles digital data collection and the security and storage of personal data.

Sustainable development 

The ILO, in line with the 2030 Agenda and more specifically sustainable development goal 8 (‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’) has created the DW4SD Resource Platform that maps out the interplay between sustainable development and decent work. The platform provides guidance and working resources to ILO staff, development partners, UN country teams, and other stakeholders.

Capacity development 

Capacity development is another digital-related issue addressed by the ILO. As part of its skills, knowledge, and employability initiatives, the ILO together with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has developed the ‘SKILL-UP programme’ that aims to assist developing countries to build capacity and improve their skills systems in relation to digitalisation and technological innovation. Aside from providing training to help empower women with digital skills, the programme also develops digital tools such as skill trackers where surveys covering different aspects of skills development are collected in real-time.

The iiO also has a Help Desk for Business on International Labour Standards that provides assistance to businesses on how to align their business operations with labour standards.

Data governance 

The ILO has a world employment and social outlook platform that provides datasets on measures such as the global labour force, unemployment, and employment by sector. The organisation also has a development co-operation dashboard with data on labour-related policy areas.

Digital tools

The International Training Centre, established by the ILO, provides online courses on a variety of labour issues. The ILO also organises webinars and uses a number of social media accounts.

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

Internet Governance Forum

Acronym: IGF

Address: Villa Bocage Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland

Website: https://intgovforum.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was established in Paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as a forum for multistakeholder policy dialogue. 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. Even though the IGF is not a decision-making body, its great potential lies in open discussions among all stakeholders on challenges and best practices related to the use and evolution of the Internet.

Starting 2006, the IGF holds annual meetings: Athens (2006), Rio de Janeiro (2007), Hyderabad (2008), Sharm El Sheikh (2009), Vilnius (2010), Nairobi (2011), Baku (2012), Bali (2013), Istanbul (2014), João Pessoa (2015), Guadalajara (2016). The programme of the annual meeting and the general direction of the IGF work are deliberated by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) to the UN Secretary General.

The IGF Secretariat, currently based at the United Nations Office at Geneva, conducts the preparations for the annual IGF meetings, coordinates the IGF intersessional activities (between two annual meetings), and assists the MAG in its work.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Acronym: UNCTAD

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

Website: https://unctad.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (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.

UNCTAD’s work often results in analyses and recommendations that can inform national and international policy-making 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 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, and privacy and data protection are other digital policy areas where UNCTAD is active.

Digital policy issues

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 Information Economy Report until 2017), and in its Technical Notes on ICT for Development.

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 the eCommerce Week, an annual event hosted by UNCTAD and featuring discussions on development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy.

E-Commerce assessments and strategy formulation

The eTrade Readiness Assessments (eT Readies) assist least developed countries (LDCs) and other developing countries in understanding their e-commerce readiness in key policy areas in order 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 information and communication technology (ICT) policy reviews and national e-commerce 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 socioeconomic 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 statistics portal UNCTADstat. Technical co-operation 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. UNCTAD also produces the B2C E-commerce Index which measures an economy’s preparedness to support online shopping.

Smart Partnerships through eTrade for all

The eTrade for all initiative (eT4a) is a global collaborative effort of 32 partners to scale up co-operation, 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, learn about trends, best practices, up-to-date e-commerce indicators, and upcoming events all in one place. The initiative also acts as 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 eCommerce Weeks organised by UNCTAD and in the conduct and review of eTrade Readiness Assessments.

Consumer protection 

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). In 2020, the conference will hold high-level consultations on strengthening consumer protection and competition in the digital economy, and international enforcement co-operation among consumer protection authorities in electronic commerce.

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.

Sustainable development 

UNCTAD works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the SDGs, in particular through (but not limited to) its activities in the field of STI for development. The organisation supports countries in their efforts to integrate STI in national development strategies, through initiatives such as Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Reviews and capacity building programmes (such as the Innovation Policy Learning Programme). The eT4a initiative is also intended to contribute to several SDGs, especially in relation to decent work and economic growth, innovation and infrastructure, global partnerships, and gender equality. Moreover, UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNCTAD’s Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development provides guidance for policymakers in formulating national investment policies and in negotiating investment agreements. The organisation is also part of the Toolbox for Financing for SDGs – a platform launched in 2018 at the initiative of the President of the UN General Assembly to assist countries and financial actors in exploring solutions to the challenges of financing the SDGs.

UNCTAD carries out research and analysis work covering various development-related issues, examples being its Digital Economy Report and the Technical notes on ICT for development. As the body responsible for servicing the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CTSD), UNCTAD also assists the CSTD in its sustainable development-related work, for instance by preparing studies and reports on issues such as the impact of advanced technologies on sustainable development.

Other UNCTAD activities designed to contribute to sustainable development cover issues such as climate change, the circular economy, and intellectual property.

Capacity development 

Many activities undertaken by UNCTAD have a capacity development dimension. For instance, its work on e-commerce and trade includes supporting developing countries in establishing adequate legal frameworks in these areas (e.g. its eCommerce and Law Reform work) and in producing statistics that can guide effective policy-making (e.g. the Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy activities and the ICT Policy Reviews ). UNCTAD’s E-Learning on Trade platform provides courses and training on issues such as trade, gender and development and non-tariff measures in trade.

UNCTAD also works to build capacity in STI policy-making in developing countries, through initiatives such as the Innovation Policy Learning programme and STI training provided in the context of the P166 programme.

Additionally, UNCTAD’s Virtual Institute – run in co-operation with universities worldwide – is dedicated to building knowledge for trade and development. Another area where UNCTAD provides capacity building for developing countries is that of statistics: The organisation and its partners assist national statistics organisations in the collection, compilation and dissemination of their statistics in domains such as trade, sustainable development, and investments.

Gender rights online 

UNCTAD runs a Trade, Gender and Development Programme dedicated to assisting countries in developing and implementing gender-sensitive trade policies, conducting gender impact analyses of trade policies and agreements, and strengthening the links between trade and gender. One notable initiative is the eTrade for Women initiative, dedicated to advancing the empowerment of women through ICTs.

Other initiatives undertaken in this area include capacity building on trade and gender, the Women in STEM: Changing the narrative dialogues, and the  Data and statistics for more gender-responsive trade policies in Africa, the Caucasus and Central Asia project.

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. 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 on issues such as economic trends, international trade, population, and the digital economy. Moreover, UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNCTAD is also running several projects focused on improving the efficiency of data management in the context of activities such as maritime trade (e.g. the Digitising Global Maritime Trade project) and customs operations (e.g. the Automated System for Customs Data).

Digital tools

 UNCTAD has developed several digital tools and online platforms in recent years. Examples include:

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?