Thomson Reuters faces shareholder pressure to investigate contracts with ICE
The majority of Thomson Reuters independent shareholders vote in favor of a proposal to have the company investigate human rights abuses of its work with ICE.
On June 9, Thomson Reuters’ shareholders voted in favor of a proposal that would have the media company launch an investigation into the potential human rights abuses as a result of its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Based in Canada, Thomson Reuters is facing renewed scrutiny from investors and outside human rights organizations for contracts with ICE it has maintained since 2015 to enable the tracking and deportation of migrants and asylum seekers.
The company has provided data and software to corporate and government clients — not just ICE — such as CLEAR, a software that aids agents tracking down targets for deportation. The software monitors vehicles and arrest databases to do so.
Thomson Reuters says its contract with ICE expired in February 2021, and its subscription to CLEAR hasn’t been renewed since April 2021. Despite the expiration, it continues to work with ICE. According to investors, the company has a number of active contracts remaining.
In the situation of Thomson Reuters, it has been quietly transforming itself into a tech company from its roots as a media company. The reason being is it’s more lucrative.
The company has conducted this shift in “a brazenly unjust way — by working closely with U.S. immigration enforcement, enabling them to track, arrest, and deport immigrants on a massive scale,” Emma Pullman, Capital Markets Advisor to the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) wrote for Breach Media.
The BCGEU introduced the proposal that shareholders voted on Wednesday. They aimed to increase awareness of Thomson Reuters “Change Program,” which was introduced earlier this year.
The company says it will shift the company from a “content provider” to a “content-driven tech company” to focus on data analytics, machine learning, and selling such data to whoever will buy them.
— Emma Pullman (@emmacaroline_) June 9, 2021
In BCGEU’s 2020 proposal, it identified the shift in Thomson Reuters from a media company to a technology company and its “lagging” due diligence practices regarding human rights.
In a statement, Reuters defended its work with ICE by directing them to its “Trust Principles,” which cite impartiality in providing “news, information, software, services and solutions upon which individuals, businesses and governments can rely.”
In response, BCGEU wrote “The Trust Principles were more appropriate when Reuters news accounted for over 50% of Thomson Reuters’s revenues. In 2020, Reuters News accounted for only 10.5% and 3.7% of revenues and Adjusted EBITDA, respectively.”
They later add that the shift within Thomas Reuters does not incorporate any framework to assess and mitigate human rights risks.
To add fuel to the ongoing situation, Thomson Reuters just signed a new multimillion-dollar contract with ICE for a car license plate reader to help the agency track the movement of vehicles across the country. This is not the CLEAR software, which ICE says it no longer uses, but it reads as an improvement.
It’s this blatant sharing of technology to an organization that is known to be hostile towards migrants that sparked alarm within human rights organizations, and led Mijente to launch the “No tech for ICE” campaign.
Reuters held an annual shareholder meeting on June 9, and activists are calling on investors to demand the board cut ties with ICE.
“This tech continues facilitating deportations & raids, leading to terrorized & distraught immigrant communities across the U.S. It must end,” read a statement from Mijente
It was pushes like this that led shareholders to request that the board produce a human rights risk report to identify potential human rights risks within the company and to compare its procedures with other prominent tech companies, since that is what Thomson Reuters now identifies as.
During the meeting, Thomson Reuters executives said doing a report to assess if their products are used to abuse human rights by ICE “would be redundant and inefficient.”
Mijente also says executives misrepresented the totality of the situation to shareholders, being that their CLEAR contract expired, implying that they no longer work with ICE.
The reality is Thomson Reuters has a number of running contracts worth over $50 million.
It currently has contracts worth US$52 million with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including at least US$39.1 million in active contracts with ICE.
The executive also misrepresented the reality to shareholders by saying their CLEAR contract with ICE expired inferring they no longer work with ICE. As @emmacaroline_ explained,Thomson Reuters has a number of other contracts with ICE worth over $50m.
— Mijente (@ConMijente) June 9, 2021
In the end, more than 70% of independent shareholders and 19% of shareholders overall voted for BCGEU’s proposal, double the amount that supported a similar resolution at last year’s shareholder meeting.
The Woodbridge Company, holding 68% of shares, voted against the proposal, thereby making it impossible to pass. It is the private holding company of the Thompson family.
The results are a massive improvement from last year’s vote, by an increase of over 150%.
"At least 70% of independent shareholders supporting this resolution represents a stunning victory for human rights given the company is controlled by one family, the Thomson family. Shareholders have registered their concern loudly and clearly,” said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith in a statement.
“Thomson Reuters is failing to tackle very serious and concerning human rights risks related to contracts with agencies like ICE, and shareholders aren't buying their excuses," she continued.
The increase of awareness is at the core of these efforts by both BCGEU and Mijente, who recently told AL DÍA they are sending a “concrete message” to Thomson Reuters — that continuing to function as a data broker for ICE is bad for business.
The dramatic increase in shareholder support indicates that more companies are beginning to understand that having a business relationship and contracts with ICE is risky business, and is bad for their reputation.
What’s more, Thomson Reuters’s quiet shift from media company to tech company — while at the same time performing as a sort of hybrid entity — should have been placed under higher scrutiny than before for the human rights implications dating back to 2015.