On 13 September 2017, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), Justice for Iran (JFI) and Redress filed a complaint with the Italian NCP against Italtel Group S.p.A.. The Complainants allege that Italtel has breached multiple principles of the OECD Guidelines in relation to its business activities in Iran including a Memorandum of Understanding (“MoU”) entered into by Italtel and the Telecommunications Company of Iran (“TCI”) on 13 April 2016.
The complainants argued that the advanced technologies and services offered by Italtel to TCI would risk contributing to Internet censorship and suppression of a wide range of fundamental freedoms and human rights in Iran. The agreement, they further argued, would also empower and equip Iranian authorities including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”) in further crushing political dissent and civil liberties throughout the country and in cyberspace.
The Complainants are asking the Italian NCP for their assistance in making an assessment of the facts and circumstances and resolving the issues or examining the complaint further and reaching findings on whether the company’s actions are consistent with the Guidelines. They have also called for an immediate moratorium on current negotiations and business engagements between Italtel and TCI until such time that the actual and potential breaches to the Guidelines are recognized and effectively mitigated.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Chapter II
- Chapter II Paragraph A10
- Chapter II Paragraph A11
- Chapter II Paragraph A12
- Chapter II Paragraph B1
- Chapter III
- Chapter III Paragraph 1
- Chapter III Paragraph 2
- Chapter III Paragraph 3
- Chapter III Paragraph 4
- Chapter IV
- Chapter IV Paragraph 2
- Chapter IV Paragraph 5
The Italian NCP rejected the complaint on 21 May 2018 (eight months after the complaint was filed) on grounds that information submitted by Italtel showed the project was of a narrower scope than that initially announced; that Italtel had taken adequate steps to disable interception of the telecommunication data; and that the MoU was yet to be finalized as a contract, suggesting “that the current business relationship cannot be assessed as an actual or potential breach of the guidelines.” The NCP thus determined that the issue at hand was not material or sufficiently substantiated to warrant further consideration.
In joint submissions to the Italian NCP, the complainants communicated their deep disagreement with the NCP on several grounds, and they urge correction of these issues in future complaints:
— The complaints feel the NCP misinterpreted the requirement that complaints be material and substantiation. Complaints feel the issue is undoubtedly material to the Guidelines because it concerns due diligence and (potential) human rights impacts covered by the Guidelines. The charges were also substantiated since the complainants sufficiently demonstrated a plausible link between the prospective project and potential human rights violations, through a detailed analysis of the current Iranian context of repression of freedom of expression and of the explicit links between the TCI and the IRGC. The complainants note that the company itself admitted in its supplementary reply to the complainants that “it is not in a position to state definitively whether the communications put in place through its system will not be intercepted.” The complainants believe the Italian NCP made the admissibility criteria into an unreasonably high threshold barring dialogue, when the criteria should instead simply ensure the case is bona fide and plausible to discourage the filing of frivolous complaints;
— The complainants also believe the NCP misinterpreted “business relationship” as conceived under the Guidelines, for it is not necessary that Italtel enter into a binding contract or operational phase for a business relationship to exist and for the NCP to accept the case.
The complainants stress that Italtel activities have actual and potential adverse impact on human rights in Iran, but that the Italian NCP ignored or justified these, selectively using only some elements of the OECD Due Diligence Guidance to reject the case. The complainants regretted the lost opportunity for direct dialogue with the company.