The data and media company Thomson Reuters is under increasing pressure to re-evaluate its contracts with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), which critics say facilitate deportations of immigrants and perpetrates human rights abuses.
The company – which provides data and information to companies and government clients, and also owns the Reuters news agency – has held contracts with Ice since 2015, including providing the immigration agency with a software called Clear, which consolidates public records, including motor vehicle and arrest databases, to track people for deportation.
The company’s shareholders will vote at an upcoming meeting on whether it should assess the human rights impact of such software contracts, which allow Ice to “track and arrest immigrants on a massive scale”, according to Jacinta Gonzalez, a senior campaign organizer for the advocacy group Mijente.
“Thomson Reuters has a long history of supporting immigration enforcement in the United States, including funneling the data of tens of millions of Americans directly to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has used this data to terrorize and deport immigrants throughout the country,” said Gonzalez.
“The company has a responsibility to investigate these practices for human rights abuses,” she added.
A new shareholder resolution, to be voted on 9 June, calls on Thomson Reuters to produce a human rights risk report regarding its current $4.5m in active contracts with Ice. It was introduced by the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), a labor union in Canada with holdings in Thomson Reuters.
The resolution seeks to produce a report on “how Thomson Reuters assesses its role in contributing to and being directly linked to human rights impacts by end users”, and how the company “mitigates its role in contributing to adverse human rights impacts from end users”.
It needs a vote of more than 50% to pass. Last year, a similar resolution received nearly 30% vote in support by independent shareholders. In a win for supporters of the vote, the resolution has gained backing from Glass Lewis, an influential firm that advises investors how to vote on such decisions by analyzing business risks.
However, the resolution still faces roadblocks, including opposition from the Thomson Reuters board of directors, which has said it is already addressing the concerns raised in the shareholder proposal through “various other mechanisms that it has in place to reflect its commitment to respecting human rights”.
“Thomson Reuters takes its role as a good corporate citizen very seriously,” it said in a notice on the upcoming meeting. It did not respond to additional request for comment.
The resolution at Thomson Reuters marks the latest example of a major tech firm facing backlash for its ties to Ice, and the most recent instance of shareholders resolutions being used to address human rights issues. In 2019, protesters called on Amazon to cut ties with government agencies that take part in immigrant deportations. In 2018, thousands called on Microsoft to do the same.
Despite the push to hold companies accountable with shareholder votes, recent resolutions at companies including Facebook and Amazon have failed. At many of these companies, executives have major sway in whether votes pass.
But supporters of the resolution say support is growing, and shareholders have the money, and the power, to get companies to listen.
“One of the most powerful things that shareholders can do is to speak up when they have ethical concerns about, you know, the company that they’re investing in,” said Sarah Lamdan, a law professor who specializes in government information access. “We need to scrutinize these partnerships from all angles.”