Seven highlights from Trust Conference 2021

by Snober Abbasi | @snobers | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 26 November 2021 11:59 GMT

Trust Conference – the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s flagship annual event – convened world-leading human rights defenders, innovators, media experts, business leaders and policymakers to address some of today’s most critical societal challenges and to discuss a post-pandemic recovery with inclusive growth, climate justice, media freedom and protection of digital rights.

Bringing together 800 delegates from 75 countries from across the world, this year’s conference, held on 17 and 18 November, examined how the global health emergency has amplified longstanding socio-economic inequalities, threats to media freedom and human rights abuses, whilst exploring how the COVID-19 recovery could forge a path to fairer societies and greener economies.

With 18 hours of live-streamed talks, plenaries and insight sessions, experts from across sectors, leveraging their combined expertise, outlined practical ways to level the power dynamics that could accelerate global efforts towards building an inclusive and sustainable future.

1. Journalists spoke from personal experience about the rising hostility towards media

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and CEO of Rappler Maria Ressa, who is facing multiple lawsuits for her investigative journalism in the Philippines, told the conference that there is no better time to discuss trust than now.

“If you don’t have truth, you can’t have trust,” said Ressa, who, referencing a sharp rise in online misinformation, advocated for new legislation to tackle algorithmic bias and amplification.

Afghan journalist Zahra Joya shared her personal experience of fleeing Kabul following the Taliban’s takeover and continuing to report the truth about women in her country. “Our work is now more important than ever because most media have closed,” she told the delegates in her keynote address, adding that about 150 media outlets in Afghanistan had shut since August due to fear of repercussions.

Watch Maria Ressa’s welcome remarks here and Zahra Joya’s keynote address here

2. Leading economist shared his views on social inclusion for all

In his keynote address, Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, warned that the challenge of combatting inequality will worsen as technology replaces jobs.

He said private enterprise alone cannot be counted on to fix glaring wealth disparities. Professor Sachs urged governments to levy taxes on wealth and private companies to ensure social inclusion for all.

Watch the keynote here

3. Environmental advocates examined climate crisis as a human rights issue

In an Insight Session, environmental advocates – including Senator and former President of the Marshall Islands Dr Hilda C. Heine, Founder and Director of Friends of Lake Turkana Ikal Angelei, Senior Associate at DLA Piper Jorian Hamster and L’Oréal’s Environmental Leadership Director Rachel Barré – examined whether reframing climate change as a human rights risk could propel greater action and accountability.

Angelei said climate change lawsuits could open space to hold governments accountable for their inaction. But she insisted that climate litigation was not a silver bullet, warning that the process is costly and time-consuming. Hamster said governments can choose whether to enact climate change laws, but they cannot choose to ignore human rights.

The human rights argument was reiterated in another panel discussion on making a ‘just transition’ where leading labour rights defenders delved into the interventions required to protect the rights and livelihoods of workers, especially those who stand to lose financially, as countries move towards a post-pandemic climate-neutral economy.

Watch the session on climate change as a human right risk here and the session on ‘just transition’ here

4. The Trust Conference Changemakers shared insights into their work on human rights issues

On both days, eight frontline activists and independent journalists from this year’s cohort of 24 Trust Conference Changemakers, selected from thousands of applicants from around the world, took to the stage to share how their innovative solutions are addressing human rights issues at the grassroots level, and how they benefitted from participating in the Changemakers Programme.

Watch the Changemakers’ day one session here and day two session here

5. Tech experts grappled with tough digital rights questions

Amid the growing practice of internet shutdowns as a tactic to stifle dissent, a panel discussion, co-hosted with Jigsaw, saw internet experts - including Technical Expert for the Middle East at Internet Society Hanna Kreitem, Product Manager at Jigsaw Justin Henck, Assistant Professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan Roya Ensafi, #KeepItOn Fellow at Access Now Marianne Díaz Hernández and Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now Felicia Anthonio – look into what online censorship means for people and communities, while detailing how a free, open and globally-connected future for the internet can be secured.

A similar concern was expressed among advocates, who, speaking at an Insight Session co-hosted with Internet Society, deep-dived into the complicated territory of encryption regulation and access to private communication for monitoring criminal behaviour. They discussed individuals’ ability to exercise freedom of expression confidentially without interference – and what that meant for communities and their advocacy.

Watch the panel discussion on internet shutdowns here and the insight session on encryption here

6. Experts dissected the business case for economic inclusion

With COVID-19 spotlighting stark income inequalities and studies showing greater profits for businesses led by diverse teams, a debate between experts – including President of Echoing Green and Board Member of Skoll Cheryl L. Dorsey, Head of the Gender and Economic Inclusion Group at the International Finance Corporation Henriette Kolb, Partner at Brunswick Group and Founder of Open For Business Jon Miller and Global Head of Social Finance at Citi Jorge Rubio Nava – centred on the business case for economic inclusion beyond the moral imperative, touching on issues such as gender, race and sexual orientation-based inequalities.  

“We have heaps and binders full of this business case and it has shifted some mindsets,” said Kolb, who highlighted how more needs to be done to improve inclusion worldwide. Questions covering the detrimental effects of anti-LGBT+ laws on a country’s economy, and ways to balance investing for profit and for social good, were also tackled in what is one of the most significant issues of today.

In a separate Insight Session, thought leaders – including Stewardship Director at abrdn Andrew Mason, Partner at White & Case Jacquelyn MacLennan, Executive Vice President of Sustainability at Mastercard Shamina Singh, and Managing Director of Engine No. 1 Yusuf George – explored how a meaningful adoption of social indicators of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) framework can measure the effects of businesses on human rights issues and can impact on the rights of workers, socio-economic inequality, and diversity and inclusion.

Watch the panel discussion on the business case for economic inclusion here and the insight session on ‘ESG’ here

7. Media specialists discussed threats to media freedom and journalists’ safety – and what can be done

With crackdowns on press freedom around the world, media and legal professionals spoke about the effects of such attacks on reporters, their repercussions on freedom of expression and how newsrooms can uphold their duty of care to empower professionals to carry out their work.

During their discussion, together with UNESCO and the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Foundation launched two practical guidelines, with one focusing on promoting gender-sensitive safety policies for newsrooms and the other offering practical guidance to female journalists on how to respond to online harassment.

Furthermore, a new guide, developed by the Foundation in partnership with UNESCO and the International News Safety Institute, was released to offer journalists a legal analysis of available tools in 13 countries to deal with online harassment.

In separate sessions focused on the media industry, experts – including Journalist at Mada Masr Lina Attalah, Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism Rasmus Nielsen, Chairperson of the International Press Institute Khadija Patel, and UK Coordinator Media Freedom Campaign & Deputy Director Democratic Governance at FCDO Kanbar Hossein Bor - talked about sustainable business models to safeguard editorial independence, as traditional sources of income such as advertising, continue to shrink.

In addition, top editors – including Editor-in-Chief of Reuters Alessandra Galloni and Editor-in-Chief of HuffPost Danielle Belton - discussed the business case for diversity in the newsroom, describing a plurality of voices among reporters and interviewees as necessary for the survival of news outlets.

Separately, Craig Newmark, philanthropist and founder of craigslist, highlighted the role of philanthropy in supporting independent journalism in a fireside chat. He said disinformation warfare motivated him to fund trustworthy media outlets, while encouraging others to “fight the good fight” for the survival of the “immune system of democracy”.  

Watch the panel discussion on journalists under attack here, the panel on editorial independence here and the insight session on diversity in the newsroom here.

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