The multi-stakeholder Global Network Initiative (GNI) and the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue (ID) are pleased to announce that seven global telecommunication companies will join with GNI to promote and advance freedom of expression and privacy around the world.

From February 1st, Millicom, Nokia, Orange, Telefónica, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, and Vodafone Group will have official observer status within the GNI. Observer status, which lasts for one year and precedes full GNI membership, is an opportunity for the ID companies to engage directly within GNI’s unique multi-stakeholder forum of ICT companies, human rights and press freedom groups, academics and investors.

Read this statement in Russian and Spanish.

The observer year will include hands-on participation in GNI committees and policy work, the sharing of best practices on conducting human rights due diligence, and working together on a review of the GNI Implementation Guidelines to cover the range of companies in the ICT sector. During the observer period, the GNI will also observe and take part in ID Board meetings and events.

Since 2013, the GNI and the Industry Dialogue have engaged in a collaboration focused on the challenges faced by ICT companies when government demands conflict with the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. Becoming official observers is the next step in this engagement. The agreed aim is that at the completion of the observer year in March 2017, these seven companies become full members – a move that would extend GNI’s global company constituency to encompass Internet companies, telecommunications operators and telecommunications equipment vendors.

“GNI looks forward in 2016 to deepening our mutual engagement with the ID companies on the critical privacy and free expression challenges we face,” said GNI Independent Board Chair, Mark Stephens, CBE. “This observer year brings us one step closer to our aim to extend the reach of GNI Principles to hundreds of millions more users around the globe.”

“We launched the ID in March 2013 to share knowledge on how to best implement the responsibility of telecommunications companies to respect freedom of expression and privacy.  We have valued the close collaboration with the GNI over the past three years, and we look forward to bringing into dialogue nearly 50 diverse organizations to share lessons, build leverage and to promote these rights globally,” commented Patrik Hiselius of TeliaSonera, founding Chair of the Industry Dialogue.

“We are encouraged that these global telecommunications companies are willing to step up to jointly address increasing threats to privacy and free expression,” said Arvind Ganesan, Business and Human Rights Director at Human Rights Watch. “We look forward to working with them to foster business accountability, credibility and transparency, and to advance the human rights of users in challenging markets around the globe.”

Unlike full members of GNI, observer companies do not participate in GNI’s independent assessment process, but become subject to GNI Principles and Assessment when membership is attained. In 2016, current ID members will continue to abide by the ID Guiding Principles.