Press release

WBA, investors and civil society call on tech companies for more ambitious ethical AI practices

Amsterdam, 29 February 2024 – The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) has today published a new investor statement as part of its ongoing Collective Impact Coalition (CIC) for Ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI). The multi-stakeholder Coalition, which includes a group of investors and civil society members, report some progress but alert that if leading digital technology companies fail to adopt, implement, and disclose robust governance policies and controls on AI, they could face reputational and revenue losses, and society as a whole faces tremendous risks.

In the past year, AI has stayed high on the global agenda for stakeholders such as governments and media, to business forums and consumers. While its consequences in the long term are still unclear, the rapid development of new AI tools is having a deep impact in our societies. It can help improve the accuracy of medical diagnoses, broaden financial inclusion, however, not used ethically, evidence has shown that AI may pose risks to individuals, for example increasing bias and discrimination, invasion of privacy, denial of individual rights and personal safety.

The CIC for Ethical AI, active since 2022, is using the collective influence from investors – who together manage over $ 7.59 trillion AUM (USD) in assets – to incentivise companies to use AI technology more ethically. In the past year, the group has directly engaged with 44 companies in WBA’s Digital Inclusion Benchmark that did not yet have publicly available ethical AI principles. To date, 52 out of the 200 leading companies assessed in the Benchmark have adopted these principles, as the first step. However, this is not enough, since only a quarter of the most influential technology companies in the world are meeting the minimum standards.

Jan Rydzak, Digital Transformation Lead at WBA, commented:

“AI technologies have the power to improve the lives of systematically excluded people or to leave them even further behind. Fueled by new data and expertise, the CIC for Ethical AI will build a stronger front for investors and civil society to hold the world’s largest companies accountable for the direction of progress they take as they embrace the promise of AI.

In order to accelerate action, all CIC members will continue to engage with more companies, and the formal scope will build on the core expectation of companies publishing their AI principles. This year, companies will also be asked to demonstrate how they are implementing these principles, how AI risks are reflected in their human rights impact assessments, and what governance mechanisms underpin the development, deployment, and procurement of AI technology.

Investors Fidelity International and Boston Common Asset Management, who have been leading the CIC for Ethical AI since its inception, commented on these new ambitions:

“The rapid acceleration of artificial intelligence development and adoption over the past year has presented exciting new opportunities for companies, but also growing risks. The launch of this phase of the Collective Impact Coalition for Ethical AI acknowledges the need to strengthen our asks of companies, moving from high-level commitments on Ethical AI towards more robust demonstration of action and oversight of critical issues identified. To achieve these objectives, close collaboration between investors, regulators, civil society and corporates is crucial.” – Emilie Goodall, Head of Stewardship, Europe – Fidelity International

“The benefits of AI in society and the economy are clear, including improved healthcare delivery, operationalized efficiencies, and financial inclusion. However, without established guidelines, ethical frameworks, and regulations by companies and governments, the real risks and negative impacts to people can be quite high. That is why Boston Common, as a founding co-lead investor for the Ethical AI CIC, supports this phase of this initiative. We expect clear standards for AI governance, impact assessment, and implementation from the companies involved.”– Lauren Compere, Managing Director – Boston Common Asset Management

As a new addition to the CIC, members will also collaborate to drive action around facial recognition technologies, coordinated by the investment firm CANDRIAM. This move seeks to strengthen company engagements on responsible AI to drive positive impact in the digital sector.

“The responsible investment community must unite around a strong and recognised initiative to drive meaningful and measurable impact on Ethical AI. To ensure cohesion, CANDRIAM and its engagement partners decided to integrate the Facial Recognition Investor Engagement into the Collective Impact Coalition. This coalition has the resources, the expertise and the investor backing to urge major tech companies to adopt its recommendations.” – Benjamin Chekroun, Lead Stewardship Analyst – Proxy Voting and Engagement – CANDRIAM

Moreover, Allies, academics and civil society organisations participating in the CIC will continue to raise awareness on responsible and ethical AI through public events and other multi-stakeholder actions. The think-tank Women at the Table will engage with policymakers on AI governance, through the Global Digital Compact at the Summit of the Future 2024.

“As Civil Society lead, we are thrilled about the unique (and unlikely) coalition of Civil Society Organizations and Investor Companies united in calling for AI with inclusion and trust at the core. The topic is urgent and the time is now to harness AI so that we leave no one behind.” – Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, CEO/Founder – Women at the Table.



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