There is increasing recognition that the mainstream economic model is generating a deepening divide and hurting our planet. Growing inequality, the climate crisis, the need for a just transition, and the impact of data and technology on people are among the biggest challenges of our time.

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Economies are only truly inclusive when they are equitable, participatory and sustainable, and when they respect and preserve the environment around us.

According to Oxfam, in 2020, the world’s richest 1 per cent had more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people. During COVID-19, Oxfam reported that the wealth of the 10 richest men doubled, while the incomes of 99 per cent of humanity are worse off. The global economy is now five times larger than it was 50 years ago, but inequality is rising, and more people are excluded than ever.

At the same time, there is a growing awareness that this inequality is structural. Current business and economic models rely on cheap, often imported labour to maximise profits. According to the International Labour Organization, 50 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021. Of these people, 28 million were in forced labour and 22 million were trapped in forced marriage. Large numbers of marginalised people cannot access social and financial opportunities, which prevents them from achieving economic empowerment.

The climate crisis has also risen to the top of the international agenda with global efforts being undertaken by governments and businesses alike to mitigate the consequences of rising global temperatures and the loss of biodiversity. There is increased understanding of how the impact of the climate crisis is interlinked with negative impacts on people and human rights. Companies are moving towards the adoption of more standardised Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) disclosure mechanisms to improve the quality and availability of non-financial indicators that can help investors and the general public to understand the corporate impact on both people and the planet.

Meanwhile, data has become the world’s most valuable commodity. Yet the law has not kept up with the rapid rise of unregulated technology and how it is being used to collect and exploit big data. This has ushered in new forms of discrimination, challenging the traditional notions of privacy and security.

What we do

We work with journalists, legal practitioners, civil society actors, policymakers and business leaders, and offer them practical actions and solutions which they can adopt in their efforts to foster equitable, participatory and sustainable business practices that take into account the interests of all stakeholders and create fair opportunities for everyone.

We employ a unique blend of our expertise in journalism, media development, legal research and convening initiatives to promote the development of the S in ESG agenda, the advancement of social entrepreneurship, and to support a just transition. We also work to make sure that the benefits of technology are spread more widely and shared more fairly, that companies and governments handle people’s data transparently and with accountability, and that such data is used in a non-discriminatory and equitable manner so that they enhance human rights and freedoms.

Fostering responsible and sustainable business models

Since the global adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, CEOs and business leaders have been urged to provide a new type of leadership, pivoting the focus from shareholder profit to stakeholder value. Widely recognised international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidance on Responsible Business Conduct are now being codified into laws that require companies to consider their negative impacts on workers, communities, and the environment.

Investors have been embracing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria, a set of standards used to consider a company’s performance on sustainability issues. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers and workers in supply chains, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, tax practices, anti-corruption mechanisms, internal controls, and shareholder rights.

We leverage the ESG framework to engage business leaders, legal practitioners, policymakers, civil society representatives and social entrepreneurs to foster new approaches and decision-making models that take into account economic and social justice, together with environmental sustainability.

The emergence of impact investment and social entrepreneurship has introduced new ways of using business to tackle social problems and inequity in the market. In 2020, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) estimated the current size of the global impact investing market to be around $715 billion. We create public awareness of the importance of these innovative approaches through our journalism, and provide valuable free legal support to social enterprises around the world.


Ground-breaking journalism

Our inclusive economies coverage hosted on Context, the Foundation’s digital news platform, focuses on vulnerable and marginalised groups affected by historical and ongoing inequalities. Our human-centred stories give voice to the many workers and communities who are most affected by the growing, global imbalance of power.

Topics examined include socio-economic inequality, as well as new economic models that encourage equitable growth in the context of a rapidly changing world - one where companies are accountable for their social actions and inactions.

a) ESG

Our aim is the spread of fairer practices in the private sector that take into account the interests of all stakeholders.

We shed light on the real impact of corporate decisions on people’s lives, communities and the environment and support private sector (investors, corporates, lawyers) best practices that prioritise social issues and result in more ethical business practices. Workers’ rights, racial and gender issues and business and human rights shape our editorial coverage.

We also do this by raising awareness, enabling transparency, building partnerships, and delivering multi-stakeholder convenings and training sessions that deliver strategic ecosystem support.

Convening initiatives

i) Influencing the finance sector to change investment practices

Investors are under increased pressure to consider the ‘S’ (social) performance component in their investments. Yet in the world of ESG investing, the integration of social performance assessment has seen insufficient progress. We brought together civil society, experts and the private sector to form a working group to emphasise the importance of the ‘social’ criteria within ESG investing. The ESG Working Group included Refinitiv, the International Sustainable Finance Centre (ISFC), White & Case, Eco-Age, The Mekong Club, the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, (as observer participants). Together, the group produced a white paper: ‘Amplifying the “S” in the ESG: Investor Myth Buster’, to further the understanding of ‘S’ issues, and to enable a wider adoption of social criteria in investment strategies through the provision of concrete actions.

Since its release, the white paper has been downloaded over 4,000 times and has been cited in a report by the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton DBE QPM, where she supports the Group’s position that social performance is as financially material as environmental risks.

To further drive the adoption of ESG criteria around the world, the group delivered a series of strategic multi-stakeholder convenings with lawyers, corporate delegates, civil society representatives, government officials and thought leaders to discuss practical tools, available data and examples of best practice.

ii) Sharing and rewarding best practices

Launched in 2015, the Stop Slavery Award marked the first global recognition for businesses that had set a gold standard in efforts to eradicate forced labour from their supply chains. The initiative successfully ran for six years and was expanded in 2019 to acknowledge journalists, innovative solutions, impactful collaborations between sectors, public awareness campaigns, and grassroots organisations on the frontlines.

During that time, the Stop Slavery Award helped to demonstrate the critical role businesses can play in addressing modern slavery, drive transparency in the corporate sector, raise awareness of the crime to global audiences, and inspire companies and organisations to take action. The Award also facilitated connections between key stakeholders, with the annual award ceremony convening representatives from all sectors, geographies and professional backgrounds for the exchange of expertise and best practice.

iii) Combatting human trafficking and modern slavery through ecosystem support

As part of our collaboration with the Laudes Foundation, we have hosted a series of journalists’ training sessions, and regionally focused, multi-stakeholder convenings in Asia and Latin America to raise awareness of forced labour and to foster strategic collaboration. Bringing together NGOs, journalists, legal professionals and business leaders, the convenings explored collaborative solutions to improving labour rights and recruitment processes, as well as strengthening legal frameworks to support this work. We also established specialised working groups with legal professionals to assist NGOs in identifying and scoping legal research projects needed to support their advocacy work. TrustLaw has since connected the participating NGOs with legal members of its pro bono network so that the research can be undertaken for free.

We are also working to combat modern slavery and human trafficking through ecosystem support in Colombia, India, Thailand and Malaysia. Leveraging our media and legal expertise, we have delivered 20 different activities – ranging from journalism training to free legal support for NGOs. In recognition of the impact that can be achieved through a collective response to modern slavery, we have also driven cross-sector collaboration between participating businesses, NGOs and media organisations.

iv) Protecting human rights in supply chains through collaboration

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation has been hosting private-sector roundtables to promote responsible business practices during a period of unprecedented uncertainty as businesses face supply chain disruptions and increased threats to the human rights of workers. Since the inaugural session, we have hosted roundtables on a range of issues that are at the forefront of business and human rights today.

In January 2021, this corporate community released a joint statement in support of the European Commission’s Sustainable Corporate Governance Initiative launched by the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders. The initiative aims to improve the EU regulatory framework on company law and corporate governance and to help companies better manage social and environmental matters in their operations and value chains.

In January 2022, we hosted another roundtable to discuss the challenge for businesses that wish to act responsibly and collaboratively in tackling human rights in their supply chains, but also worry about the potential legal risk posed by such collaboration. We discussed the current legal context and recent developments, and provided key recommendations for companies to promote human rights in supply chains.

Journalism training

In a world of information overload, we work with journalists, news organisations and partners - including the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, the Skoll Foundation and the International Fund for Agricultural Development - to make sure that environmental, sustainability and socio-economic issues remain at the top of the news agenda.

Our training programmes help journalists to write compelling stories on the Sustainable Development Goals, cover health and child immunisation in India, and understand the myriad issues affecting those in rural poverty.

CASE STUDYReporting the Sustainable Development Goals

We partnered with the United Nations Foundation to train more than 700 journalists, and government and non-governmental communicators from 40 countries, on how to effectively report on the Sustainable Development Goals. The programme aimed to show how integral environment and sustainability issues are to political, economic and humanitarian news stories. It also raised the profile of international development projects that are often under-reported but have the power to transform global living standards.

CASE STUDYUnderstanding the Global Reporting Initiative

Companies from many sectors are coming under increasing scrutiny and pressure regarding sustainability reporting. There is a wealth of data and information on the sustainability strategies and efforts undertaken by companies. Thorough investigation of this publicly-available information can help journalists hold organisations to account and uncover stories on a wide array of themes, be they political, financial, social or environmental. In partnership with the Global Reporting Initiative - an international independent standards organisation that helps businesses, governments and other organisations understand and communicate their impacts on issues such as climate change, human rights and corruption - we delivered an intensive workshop to journalists in India, Brazil and the Philippines. The workshop provided them with the information, tools and strategies they need to understand the complexities of sustainability and enable them to better report through that lens.

CASE STUDYStrengthening media coverage of the “S” in ESG

As part of our work on the “S” (social) in the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework, we trained financial and investigative journalists from South and Southeast Asia, with the support of the Skoll Foundation. The training focused on using various financial and non-financial data sources as a means of accessing corporate social performance and uncovering political discrepancies between corporate practice and disclosure.


Legal research and support

We work with social impact partners and law firms to produce a host of legal resources - including tools, guides and country-level research - that help lawyers, entrepreneurs and investors to navigate the evolving legal and regulatory landscape for social entrepreneurship, ESG and impact investing.

We also support social enterprises through facilitating pro bono legal advice from leading law firms, enabling these organisations to adopt sustainable business models, strengthen their operations and, ultimately, help them to balance profit and purpose.

CASE STUDYWorkplace gender equality and inclusion

In October 2021, TrustLaw launched a report ‘Gender Pay Gap Reporting: A Comparative Analysis’, which mapped international gender pay gap reporting legislation across 11 countries - Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Spain and Sweden - with the goal of highlighting best practices internationally and suggesting a way forward for the UK.

The research was requested by the Fawcett Society and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, and was coordinated by Latham & Watkins with contributions by Castrén & Snellman and BBA Fjeldco.

The launch event for the report received more than 700 registrations and featured a panel chaired by former Australian PM Julia Gillard, with speakers from the Fawcett Society, Latham & Watkins, the UK Government Equalities Office and the Trade Union Congress. The report was picked up by several news outlets, including Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent and Yahoo Finance. The Independent also cited the research again in response to Labour MP Stella Creasy introducing an Equal Pay Bill to Parliament. The Bill was co-written with the Fawcett Society and would allow women in the workplace to request data from their employer if they suspect a male colleague is taking home different wages for doing the same work.


b) Just Transition

Our aim is a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies.

We explore the nexus between climate action and inequality, providing crucial context, analysis and news and giving voice to civil society, experts, workers, and vulnerable communities.

We highlight and support responsible and sustainable business practices at the intersection of environmental and social issues to ensure a just transition to a greener economy while having a positive impact on people and mitigating inequality.

Convening initiatives

Hosted just over one week before global leaders gathered in Egypt for COP27, day two of our flagship annual event, Trust Conference, convened experts to explore the drive towards more inclusive and sustainable economies.

Our panel discussion on the green energy shift saw the participation of Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Councillor Mete Coban MBE, Chief Executive of My Life My Say, Jeff Currie, Global Head of Commodities Research at Goldman Sachs, Barnaby Pace, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness and Cassie Sutherland, Managing Director of Climate Solutions and Networks at C40 Cities. The expert speakers examined the progress and setbacks towards an economy based on clean energy, as well as the destabilising effect of the Ukraine crisis on fuel security.

In a spotlight session on ‘The labour abuses fuelling the green transition’, Fabio Teixeira - Just Transition Correspondent at our media platform Context - spoke about his year-long investigation into the labour violations linked to cultivating ethanol, a biofuel produced from sugarcane and other crops, in Brazil.


Ground-breaking journalism

Pursuing a just transition – one that creates new, greener job opportunities, without leaving workers in high-carbon sectors behind – has become a key challenge for policymakers and business leaders alike when tackling climate change.

Context - our digital media platform - features dedicated coverage of the 'just transition', exploring issues at the nexus between climate, inequality, and labour rights. Examples of our work include:

In addition, Context has launched a new podcast series titled 'Just Transition'. Together with the Foundation’s award-winning network of reporters, host and journalist Iman Amrani explores the human stories behind global efforts to decarbonise. Each episode covers a different topic, ranging from modern slavery in Brazil’s ethanol supply chain, to people living in the shadow of India’s huge solar farms and First Nations communities in Canada using green energy to advance economic empowerment.

Listen to the episodes here.

c) Purpose-driven innovation and business models

Our aim is the advancement of social and purpose-driven business models.

We shed light on the latest social innovation and work with entrepreneurs, investors, civil society, and independent experts to promote new ideas and solutions that create social value and support the development of new purpose-driven business models.

We also help purpose-driven businesses to navigate new and evolving legal and regulatory frameworks and we produce resources, tools and training to support the development of the wider social impact ecosystem.

Convening initiatives

From 26 to 28 October 2021, we partnered with social impact experts to run a virtual training on Social Enterprise, ESG and Impact Investing in the U.S. for more than 90 lawyers and other professionals who joined remotely from around the world.

The course explored key legal issues and trends in the social impact space across three themes: structuring business for impact; ESG compliance, disclosure and beyond; and impact investing. Through these sessions, the participants developed the skills they need to advise different stakeholders across the sector.

Offered since 2015, this pioneering course combines hands-on legal training with practical case studies and networking opportunities. The 2021 session featured an expanded curriculum and enabled attendees to remotely access a variety of lectures and panels, ‘on-demand’ content and interactive workshops.


Legal research and support

We support innovative organisations that are addressing environmental, humanitarian and social problems by providing more than 1,000 social enterprises, across 80+ countries, with pro bono legal advice from leading law firms.

We provide vital tools and resources, including guidance on navigating regulatory frameworks, accessing crowdfunding, and registering in various jurisdictions.

Since 2015, we have hosted accredited legal training on social enterprise and impact investing for lawyers, which focuses on legal issues and trends in the burgeoning social innovation sector and provides lawyers with the skills and knowledge they need to advise clients. In 2021, we expanded the training’s curriculum to include an entire day dedicated to ESG compliance and disclosure.

CASE STUDYFighting blood shortages in Kenya

Blood shortages are a critical issue in Kenya. In 2019, the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service collected only 16% of the 1 million units the country needed.

Sisu Global Health - a US-based social enterprise - developed an autotransfusion device called Hemafuse, which can salvage and recycle a patient’s blood from internal bleeding, without relying on blood donation.

Through TrustLaw, they were connected with two leading law firms - CFL Advocates based in Kenya and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton in the United States - for free legal support on how to trademark their company name and product. This has since helped them to roll out their device in under-resourced communities. Hemafuse is now used in ten different hospitals across Kenya and covered by the National Health Insurance Fund - the medical insurance provider most low-income people in the country have.

CASE STUDYAdvancing social enterprises and social impact

While social enterprises are recognised as a force for good, many entrepreneurs face a multitude of challenges, particularly in understanding and complying with evolving legal frameworks as they balance profit and purpose.

Through TrustLaw, our pro bono legal service, we work with social impact partners and law firms to produce a host of legal resources, including tools, guides and country-level research, that help entrepreneurs, investors and their advisors navigate the ever-changing legal and regulatory landscape for social entrepreneurship, ESG and impact investing. Most recently, we produced a legal guide to offer step-by-step instruction to social enterprises in Argentina on navigating a wide range of legal complexities, including tax regulations, intellectual property and good governance, whilst conducting the first stages of their operations.


CASE STUDYHelping social enterprises survive the COVID-19 crisis

We are a membership of the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, which brings together more than 50 leading global organisations to coordinate and amplify support for social entrepreneurs facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the pandemic.

As part of its subgroup on Non-Financial Support (NFS), we participated in a pilot cohort of select social enterprises which received a customised NFS package to aid them in addressing and overcoming the impacts of COVID-19. The NFS support took the form of marketing, communications, technological, digital and mentorship services, as well as legal support through TrustLaw. We have been working with the Alliance to explore how to scale the programme to support hundreds more social entrepreneurs.


Ground-breaking journalism

Through our news coverage of purpose-driven innovation and business models, we raise public awareness of the vital contribution mission-led business and community initiatives can have on the health and wealth of society.

A few examples of our work include:

Advancing data equity and respecting digital rights

Personal data is widely collected by businesses and governments, yet many individuals have little to no control over how their data is being used. We explore and build global awareness and public discussion of how personal data is collected, stored and used by third parties; how this affects people, communities, and society in general, including the social, economic and political impact; what privacy rights people have; and what value personal data has and who benefits from it.

The growing use of algorithms, personalised political advertisement, facial recognition, and contact tracing to contain the spread of the coronavirus have sparked further concerns around increased surveillance, the proliferation of fake news, and consumer and voter manipulation. Key policy and commercial decisions are made using big data, but opaque decision-making processes involving the use of AI profiling can exacerbate existing racial or gender disparities and create new ones.

Our aim is equitable use of data in business and public decision-making. Equitable use of data means maximising benefits of and access to data, avoiding causing harm to people and communities, even where there is no formal or legal requirement, and respecting all people, especially the vulnerable and the marginalised, in the use of their data.

Convening initiatives

Each year at our flagship annual event, Trust Conference, we convene digital rights experts, lawyers, policymakers, technologists and data rights NGOs to highlight and explore the many intersections between human rights and technology.

Additionally, throughout the year, we host seminars and events in partnership with digital rights NGOs, such as an event held in the Netherlands looking at the implications of domestic laws that expand the powers of civil and military intelligence services to collect data en masse, ‘What does the secret service know about you?’.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation had a prominent presence at RightsCon 2021, Access Now’s annual human and digital rights forum. We hosted a range of events with key partners and thought leaders on the impact of strategic litigation on internet shutdowns, reporting on digital rights beyond Silicon Valley, the pandemic and freedom of expression, and an interactive social networking session between lawyers and experts championing digital rights.

CASE STUDYAdvancing Data and Digital Rights

During the pandemic, many governments began implementing data-gathering measures that have resulted in increased surveillance, raising crucial questions around digital and data rights and the wider implications for human rights and democracy. TrustLaw hosted a virtual working group in May 2020, in partnership with Access Now, during which organisations and expert law firms collaborated to identify legal research and resources needed to support their advocacy work towards the protection and promotion of data and digital rights. The working group session and the subsequent principles drafted informed Access Now’s activities across a range of data protection work over 2020, including the development of a ‘Dos and Don’ts guide on contact tracing apps’, and supported Access Now’s effort in Tunisia to improve transparency and accountability around its contact tracing app.

Building on this working group, TrustLaw also hosted a workshop in partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprises and the Software Freedom Law Centre for organisations to receive practical guidance on data protection and safe web practices.

Journalism training

To equip journalists with the necessary skills and information to report on data and digital rights, the Foundation - with support from Fondation Botnar - hosted a five-week online Digital Rights Reporting Hub. The training ran for two cohorts of journalists from 11 countries - including Colombia, Egypt, India Indonesia, and Senegal - and focused on the long-term impact of data sharing on privacy, as well as the threats that big data poses to human rights and democracy.

The programme helped participants to navigate the complex digital ecosystem and report on ever-changing legislation, whilst also providing a platform for knowledge sharing and network building.


Legal research

Our legal research enables our NGO and social enterprise members to navigate the often uncharted and challenging territory of data regulation and legislation, allowing them to remain compliant and improve their organisational robustness.

CASE STUDYSupporting the NGO sector in navigating the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in 2018, introduced strict obligations in relation to the processing of personal data. Civil society organisations are subject to GDPR regulation but often lack the legal guidance needed to translate the new requirements into practical outcomes.

We published two guides and delivered webinar training for NGOs and social enterprises to help them understand how to comply:


Ground-breaking journalism

In a world where digital technology is increasingly pervasive, our ‘Tech & Society’ reporting, hosted on the Foundation’s digital news platform Context, uncovers the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), surveillance and the digital divide on people’s lives and livelihoods.

With a handful of large corporations dominating the global technology market and holding significant power over the millions of people who use their products and services, our journalism also examines the actions and impact of Big Tech in society.

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