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Shareholders to pressure Thomson Reuters on cutting ties with ICE

Shareholders to pressure Thomson Reuters on cutting ties with ICE
© OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Thomson Reuters shareholders will vote Wednesday on a proposal to review the human rights impact of the company’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The vote will gauge the strength of a campaign to pressure the Canadian technology and media giant into severing ties with the U.S. agency.

While an outright victory is unlikely, and even approved shareholder proposals are nonbinding, activists and investors are hoping Wednesday’s vote will draw attention to the company’s work with ICE.

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“Thomson Reuters has made tens of millions of dollars from immigration enforcement in the United States,” said Stephanie Smith, the president of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union, which introduced the proposal. “As a shareholder, we believe it is our role to push Thomson Reuters to understand and mitigate the human rights impacts of the use of their software products.”

This is the second year the labor group has put forward a proposal calling on the company to evaluate and produce a report on its ICE contracts.

Last year’s effort received the support of 30 percent of independent shareholders. Supporters of the proposal are hoping to crest 50 percent support among independent shareholders this time around, which they say would send a strong signal to ownership.

More than 60 percent of the company is controlled by The Woodbridge Company, the private holding company of the Thomson family.

New support for the proposal from two major proxy advisory service companies, which give asset holders advice on these kinds of proposals, will likely help advocates clear the 50 percent threshold.

Both Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) told their clients that adopting the proposal’s recommendations would be a positive step for Thomson Reuters from a business perspective.

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Glass Lewis and ISS “play a very influential role in the shareholder advocacy world,” said Michael Connor, executive director of Open Mic, a nonprofit focused on corporate accountability in tech and media, adding that one of those endorsements can swing up to 20 percent of the vote in some cases.

Both organizations backed the successful shareholder effort to place environmental advocates on Exxon Mobil’s board.

Thomson Reuters said in a statement to The Hill that it already has “a number of mechanisms in place” to “address and respect human rights concerns.”

“As we review best practices for identifying and mitigating human rights risks, we always welcome feedback from our shareholders and will continue in our dialogue with our investors as part of our shared commitment to human rights,” the company added.

Criticism of Thomson Reuters’s work with ICE has primarily focused on its earlier contract to provide the agency with Clear, software that aggregates public records like utility bills, arrest records and vehicle registration and is used to track down individuals for deportation.

That contract expired in February, and ICE stopped using Clear in April. However, the company has other contracts, all through its subsidiary Thomson Reuters Special Services (TRSS), with the agency that have not received as much attention.

The company entered into a new contract in late 2019 to provide eight social media analysts to work on site with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division, according to contract details obtained by immigration advocacy group Mijente through a records request.

The analysts track social media accounts of targets, their families and their friends for information that could assist in arrests.

TRSS also has a contract to provide “risk mitigation services” to ICE. That contract is slated to run potentially until 2023 at a maximum cost of $4 million, with $2.3 million already obligated.

The services provided include monitoring and assessing the risk of threats targeted at ICE personnel, according to the contract’s sole source justification, which critics worry could mean targeting immigrant rights activists.

And just last month, ICE awarded a $4.2 million contract to TRSS for access to a database that includes license plate scans.

Dave Moran, a Thomson Reuters spokesperson, said the work the company does with ICE helps with “serious law enforcement issues” and stressed that its products do not have information about immigration or work status.

The company declined to comment on specific contracts.

Wednesday’s shareholder vote comes amid rising scrutiny on data brokers, which buy up public data to repackage and sell, more broadly. Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenNew Alzheimer's drug sparks backlash over FDA, pricing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain Senate panel advances nominations for key Treasury positions MORE (D-Ore.) introduced a bill this year that would bar law enforcement agencies from purchasing consumers’ personal data without a warrant.

Jacinta Gonzalez, Mijente’s field director, told The Hill that the upcoming shareholder vote offers an opportunity to highlight ties between data brokers and law enforcement.

“More people are starting to understand the real serious consequences of having these types of companies being able to sell personal information to police agencies like ICE,” she said.