What the Wikimedia Foundation’s new Human Rights Policy means for our Movement

Photo of the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland (CC BY-2.0).

The Wikimedia Foundation believes knowledge is a human right. Wikimedia projects provide channels and platforms through which everyone—everywhere—has the right to share and access knowledge freely, without fear. Free knowledge, along with the fundamental right to freedom of expression, empowers people to exercise many other rights including education, artistic expression, economic advancement, decisions about medical care, and political participation.

Recognizing how the Wikimedia Movement both advances and depends on human rights, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees approved an official Human Rights Policy on 8 December, 2021. 

Our Human Rights Policy relates to all of the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These fundamental rights are to be understood in relation to one another, and include not only freedom of expression and privacy; also the right to non-discrimination and the right to life, liberty and security—to name just two more of the 30 rights listed in the Universal Declaration. 

The publication of this policy is an important step in support of the 2030 Movement Strategy to expand knowledge equity and access to knowledge for all. Ultimately, the Movement’s success depends on the extent to which the rights of all volunteers and audiences can be protected and respected. While we recognize that we cannot control the behavior of all nation states, non-state actors, social movements, and private sector actors that violate human rights, our Human Rights Policy commits us to take all steps that we reasonably can—given our resources and capacity—to protect, respect, and advance everyone’s right to share and access knowledge. 

Formalizing values and reinforcing ongoing work

This may be a new official policy, but it formalizes values that are by no means new to the Wikimedia Movement. Rather, it reflects ongoing efforts to protect and defend human rights throughout the Foundation’s history.

  • We have partnered with the UN Human Rights and communities to expand human rights-related content through the #WikiForHumanRights campaign.
  • We have a long track record of  fighting against censorship and surveillance.
  • We publish transparency reports about how we respond to government demands.
  • We have redoubled our efforts to advance diversity and inclusion across the Foundation and movement.
  • We are building a new Human Rights Team.
  • The Universal Code of Conduct, adopted by the Board of Trustees last year, was another important step in support of our need to protect and respect the fundamental rights of all members of the Movement.

There is much work still to be done, and we can always do better. Importantly, we believe this policy will empower us to take stronger stances as we confront the numerous challenges still facing our projects.

Going forward, the Human Rights Policy is intended to serve not only as a compass for our broader work in advocating for policies and technologies that advance the movement. It provides a framework for respecting and protecting the rights of everyone—from staff to volunteer contributors—across all Foundation operations and movement activities. It clarifies our responsibility to ensure that all Wikimedia projects are operated and designed with human rights-related risks and benefits in mind. Critically, the policy will inform how we respond to and protect members of our movement against demands and threats from non-state actors as well as governments that threaten to violate their human rights. 

Wikimedia’s commitment to human rights 

While the Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit organization, our work in developing, operating, and supporting digital platforms and services exposes us, and all people who contribute to or interact with our projects, to human rights risks common to all digital platforms, including those operated by private companies. Thus we are committed to follow the global standards set forth by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).  The UNGPs offer concrete guidance for how private entities should align their operations with human rights standards. In keeping with that guidance the Foundation will work to implement its human rights commitments in the following ways:

  • Due diligence: Conducting ongoing risk and impact assessments to understand the human rights implications of our operations and projects for our employees, volunteers, project audiences, and the communities they belong to;
  • Transparency: Tracking and publicly reporting on our efforts to meet our human rights commitments;
  • Advocacy: Using our influence with partners, the private sector, and governments to advance and uphold respect for human rights; and
  • Remedy: Providing access to grievance reporting mechanisms and processes that investigate and offer remedy when human rights have been negatively impacted or violated.

Approval and publication of this policy is just the first step on a long road ahead. In the coming months the Foundation will begin work on an implementation plan. It will take many years not only to implement the policy throughout our operations and projects, but also to monitor and assess our progress. While the policy is a North Star that we will use to chart our course, much work needs to be done across the Foundation and Movement to ensure that each step of the journey can be taken with care and integrity—and that we continuously learn from our mistakes.

More information about our human rights policy

In the coming weeks and months, members of the Foundation’s Global Advocacy, Public Policy, and Human Rights teams look forward to many conversations about the policy. Tomorrow, 10 December 2021, representatives of these teams will be available for a conversation hour (available here) at 10:00 AM ET (15:00 UTC) to answer any initial questions. A recording of this session will be available afterwards. You can submit questions to Richard Gaines (rgaines@wikimedia.org) and Ziski Putz (fputz@wikimedia.org) before and after the conversation hour and our team will work to answer them in a timely manner.  Your identity will remain confidential. 

Available here, we’ve included the answers to a few common questions we’ve already received. We look forward to hearing from people across the Foundation and Movement about the best way forward as we take the first steps toward developing an implementation plan. 

In the meantime, please join us tomorrow in celebrating the 73rd annual Human Rights Day on 10 December!