USCIB Interviews John Frank on Microsoft’s New Office in NY for UN Affairs

John Frank

USCIB member since 1996, Microsoft has recently established a New York office to liaise with the United Nations. Norine Kennedy, who leads USCIB work on strategic international engagement, energy and environment, conducted a (virtual) interview with the head of this new office—Vice President for UN Affairs John Frank. Kennedy welcomed Frank to NY and posed some questions about Microsoft’s strategic vision for an enhanced presence at the UN, and invited his perspective on what American innovation, engagement and sustainability leadership can bring to the international community.


Microsoft’s decision to establish a New York office to connect directly with the UN is unique among our members. Could you talk about the process that led to this decision?

Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it’s public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we have found that multilateral cooperation is essential. And we need inclusive governance that brings in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. At Microsoft, we have taken active roles to encourage and support multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace and the Christchurch Call to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

As we have deepened our engagements on global and multi-stakeholder initiatives, we find ourselves interacting with the UN system and other multilateral institutions more deeply. The UN General Assembly High Level Week brings many people, including companies, to New York. But the work does not stop there. The people and processes that aim to solve these collective challenges continue after High Level Week concludes, so we decided we should be here all year long.

Establishing our representation office with people based in New York and Geneva is the next natural step for a company that values multilateralism and multi-stakeholder solutions to global challenges.

What do you see as the role of tech companies such as Microsoft in a post COVID-19 world?

The COVID-19 experience has greatly accelerated the adoption of technology across many organizations. Whether one uses Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, or another video conferencing solution, we have all moved our meetings and conferences online. Outside of the workplace, technology is helping us educate our children, engage with friends and family, and make our voices heard during the pandemic. In a post COVID-19 world, we expect some best practices will persist, allowing for more flexible workplaces, next generation classrooms, and other technology-enabled advances to improve how we work, communicate, and learn.

We believe this digital transformation will continue to accelerate. We see greater urgency to harness data science, especially for public health. Software, computers and data science are becoming core to every organization. Every company is becoming either a tech company, or a tech-enabled company. We will continue to see growth in the number of tech companies and the number of technology skilled workers.

COVID-19 has also sharpened the digital divide. As schooling moves online, students without affordable broadband access and laptops are at risk of being left behind. Telemedicine has seen great adoption and social benefits, but communities without broadband access cannot benefit. Billions of people around the world are still not connected. The pandemic has drawn into stark focus the need to narrow the digital divide between and within countries. And we need to enable institutions and individuals to develop the digital skills to flourish in a technology-enabled future.

Some technology companies have enjoyed great success but have not always earned the trust and respect of political leaders. It’s no surprise that our industry is facing greater calls for corporate responsibility and regulation in several jurisdictions globally. And so we have important work on both transformations – contributing to our customers’ digital transformations, and to new regulatory frameworks that will support innovation and greater corporate responsibility.

What is your vision for your team regarding UN engagement, particularly on over-arching UN-wide efforts to respond to COVID-19 and a sustainable and resilient recovery?

Across Microsoft, we have several engagements with the UN that are intended to help the UN amplify its efforts in a wide range of areas. Our representation office focuses on how we can help those initiatives be more impactful and help our Microsoft colleagues engage the many parts of the UN system in a way that best meets the UN’s needs.

Our initial focus will be on supporting and promoting cooperation with the UN to advance progress in six key areas: climate action; human rights; strong institutions; decent work and economic growth; quality education; and broadband availability and accessibility.

Our partnerships support the Secretary-General’s plan for a comprehensive UN response to COVID-19 to save lives, protect societies, and recover better. We will continue our projects that contribute to a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.

Since March 2020, our senior leaders have been working with the leaders at WHO to develop big data solutions that will greatly increase the scientific capacity of WHO to address COVID-19 and future health challenges. This work has implications for all nations that are dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

We also focus on digital inclusion initiatives. Our colleagues have promoted innovative, lower-cost solutions to bring broadband access to rural Africa because getting the world online will help build sustainable and inclusive societies. Five years ago, I visited a demonstration project in Mawingu, Kenya, for a low-cost broadband solution using unused spectrum allocated to broadcast television. That technology is now proven, and there is a group of local companies ready to deploy scale solutions in Africa. Our team is focused on their last mile: how we can help those projects get financing so they can bring broadband to millions of people at affordable prices.

Microsoft colleagues have been working for years on education opportunities for refugees and internally displaced people. The Learning Passport began as a partnership among UNICEF, Microsoft and the University of Cambridge. The program was designed to provide education for internally displaced and refugee children through a digital remote learning platform. It has now undergone rapid expansion to help countries roll out their online curricula for children and youth whose schools were forced to close due to COVID-19. The platform will also provide key resources to teachers and educators who need to adapt to online learning quickly.

Protecting human rights remains essential across everything we do. We have an important partnership with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to support their work with a technology tool, Rights View, that enables them to monitor human rights developments around the world.

The vision for our UN Affairs team is to engage with the UN community, build relationships and learn, and help make Microsoft’s partnerships more impactful.

COVID-19 delays within UN processes on climate change and biodiversity notwithstanding, Microsoft has announced impressive leadership initiatives in the sustainability space.  Could you talk about those and the synergies you hope to see in bringing those into and partnering with the UN?

Around the time the US Administration announced its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, our company leadership decided that we needed to do more directly not only to reduce, but to reverse our environmental impact. We have chosen four focus areas: carbon, water, biodiversity, and waste. We have set bold goals for ourselves, based on rigorous environmental standards and business planning. For example, we have pledged to be carbon negative on Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions by 2030 and to achieve net zero carbon emissions for our Scope 1 and 2 emissions for the 75 years of the company’s existence by 2050.

Companies need to share and learn from each other how we to make progress towards these kinds of goals. The NetZero Coalition is a forum we helped form for this purpose. We want to share aspirations and operational experiences so that eventually, small, medium and large size organizations can learn how to implement programs that are economically sound, and ambitiously reduce carbon emissions.

The UN and its agencies have been on a similar journey, researching and learning more about how to tackle climate change collectively. With our engagements with the UN, we hope that we can expand the reach and amplify the learnings on how organizations, large and small, can move from aspiration to achieving measurable and ambitious operational goals.

Let’s switch gears to the digital economy. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has issued a Digital Cooperation Roadmap. Through USCIB, Microsoft actively contributed to advocating for an Internet Governance architecture that would build upon the current Internet Governance Forum. The UN Roadmap also addresses connectivity, privacy protections and human rights, and cybersecurity. Overall, how would Microsoft like to see this Roadmap carried forward in the UN – recognizing that many member states still may lack a strong digital infrastructure?

The Roadmap for Digital Cooperation embraces a multi-stakeholder approach that Microsoft, USCIB and others have been advocating over a number of years. It is important for USCIB and our fellow members to remain engaged. We hope that the progress we made together to shape the vision for the eight areas for action can be advanced to make ambitious progress in implementation, engaging multi-stakeholder processes. The appointment of a UN Technology Envoy will be a welcome step.

Microsoft has embraced the opportunity to contribute to the Roundtable process this year, including as co-champion of the section on Digital Trust and Security. Our company had an opportunity to participate in important discussions to advance broader understanding of the strong linkage between digital trust and security, and how essential they are to protecting the digital environment that enables progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

As you note in your question, many member states are still building their digital infrastructure and so we believe it is important to devote significant energy to helping them build their digital capacities.  Affordable broadband connectivity, guaranteeing human rights, and commitment to keeping the Internet free, open and secure, and building capacity for digital trust and security are important priorities.

And in all countries, there is important work to be done promoting inclusive economic recovery, addressing the digital divides with affordable broadband access, skilling workers for greater economic rewards, and remotely teaching students.

Microsoft has been an active contributor to the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Cybersecurity, a multi-stakeholder group. This has enabled business to provide critical technical expertise to security-related discussions. USCIB members are concerned about the efforts of Russia, China, and others to press for a binding UN cybersecurity treaty or other legal instrument. How can we leverage groups like the Open-Ended Working Group to build broader support for our view that a UN binding cybersecurity instrument risks doing more harm than good?

We can all benefit from the expanding number of nations that make cybersecurity a priority. Perhaps the clearest message from the OEWG process is that nations want to build their capacity, both to keep themselves more secure and to deepen their understanding of cybersecurity practices, norms and international protections.

Cybersecurity is also being addressed in other international fora. The Paris Call now has 78 nations as signatories (as well as nearly 1000 local government, civil society and private sector endorsers). We have all pledged to support nine widely accepted principles, and to work together to help elaborate and implement the principles. Siemens is leading a group of companies to improve supply chain security, called the Charter of Trust. Microsoft helped launch the Cybersecurity Tech Accord to collaborate on making products more secure over their lifetimes. At the OECD, a group has been working to elaborate how a “no hacking back” principle could be applied in practice. These represent just a fraction of the initiatives that have emerged in recent years to promote a safer cyberspace.

Most significantly, we need to make progress expanding the number of nations that can engage fully on cybersecurity practices and policy, and we need to work inclusively to build from principles that have already been agreed to more concrete norms and practices. And then, we can evaluate how to approach new legal instruments.

As you know, USCIB has worked with UN agencies on behalf of its members for decades and is conscious of the opportunities, even under the current circumstances, to support and advance the effectiveness of UN efforts by crowding in U.S. private sector innovation and hands-on engagement. As a valued member of USCIB, where would Microsoft like to see USCIB focus to pursue opportunities to co-create practical shared value with UN partners looking ahead towards rebuilding better and more sustainably?

We need USCIB’s leadership to help advance inclusive global governance innovations. USCIB members can help create new opportunities by sharing and learning from each other on how we can collectively address the big challenges, like strengthening our global capacity and cooperation for public health and pandemic response.

We are all experiencing together the COVID-19 pandemic and the breakdowns and gaps in our global economy that have prevented us from better containment and care. Governments will address these issues – including rethinking some critical supply chains – and private sector actors should be deeply engaged in contributing to the new solutions. Along with civil society, which plays an especially important role in global health, we can all engage to help build an improved system for global cooperation and national preparedness to better manage public health challenges.

Climate change can seem such an overwhelming challenge that it can be difficult to know where private sector actors should start. Across the full range of our economy, one can see innovations and experimentation that hold promise for reducing our climate impact. USCIB can be a valuable convener for how we can learn from each other and how we can strengthen the UN’s efforts through broader cooperation and commitment.

Finally, we should also devote time and effort together to share views and try and build consensus on how our global institutions should be reformed and strengthened. We seem to be at an inflection point where the weaknesses of our global governance systems have been highlighted, but the reforms have not been elaborated and agreed. The missions of many global institutions are important to the USCIB members, and it’s an opportune time to reimagine how global governance can become more inclusive and effective.

ILO Reaches Ratification on Worst Forms of Child Labor

USCIB applauds the recent universal ratification by the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. All 187 Member States of the ILO supported ratification. The Convention forms the basis for international action to eliminate child labor; its application assists governments globally in developing and adopting effective national laws and policies to eliminate child labor practices. The ILO works with employers, trade unions and governments globally to develop and adopt these standards as part of its unique tripartite approach to work issues.

Child labor has dropped forty percent between 2000 and 2016, but progress has slowed in recent years, particularly among children aged five to eleven and in some geographic locations. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an additional risk to progress, potentially leading to the first increase in child labor for the first time in twenty years.

The United States, through the strenuous efforts of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), was an early and prolific supporter in the global efforts to eliminate child labor. DOL funding and collaboration has been central to the ILO’s work through the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, which has supported over 100 countries in their efforts to eliminate child labor, especially the worst forms.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder held a virtual ceremony on August 4 to mark the occasion.

USCIB Submits Comments on USMCA Labor Chapter to US Trade Representative

Following the entry into force of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on July 1, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has requested comments on the procedures for submissions alleging violations under the Labor Chapter. USCIB and its members have been vocal supporters of the inclusion of a Labor Chapter in the USMCA and its Annex which would increase protections for workers abroad, promote business continuity and encourage efficiency.

On August 14, USCIB submitted comments to USTR and  the Interagency Labor Committee for Monitoring and Enforcement (Interagency Labor Committee) with recommendations, such as allowing USCIB to participate and provide information to the Committee as labor unions are invited to do. USCIB is the national employer body recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The comments also called for greater elaboration of specific procedural provisions. “The interests of all stakeholders should be considered when carrying out labor-related mandates and due process needs to be safeguarded,” said USCIB Vice President for Corporate Responsibility Gabriella Rigg Herzog. “We look forward to lending USCIB’s unique expertise in our continued work with USTR

USCIB Calls for Enhanced Action Against Trafficking in Persons

New York, NY, July 30, 2020: On this year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, USCIB joins the global community in calling for enhanced action to combat human trafficking and to recognize the crucial role of first responders in assisting victims of this heinous practice.

“We and our member companies firmly believe that trafficking in persons is a wholly unacceptable affront to human dignity.

“Human trafficking thrives particularly where rule of law is weak; USCIB has been active in working through its global affiliates – the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Business at OECD (BIAC) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE) – to promote the uptake by governments of relevant international agreements that address governance gaps. We take pride in the actions of the numerous USCIB member companies that are using their global footprints to take proactive measures and champion innovative strategies to uncover and counter human trafficking in the countries where they do business.  

“USCIB is committed to continuing this work in collaboration with all stakeholders to #EndHumanTrafficking.”

USCIB Submits Comments to USTR on Proposed Digital Services Taxes

USCIB provided comments to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) regarding the proposed Digital Services Taxes (DSTs) of several countries, including Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union.

USCIB’s submission focused on whether these countries violated Section 301 while encouraging the U.S. to seek a multilateral solution.

“The DSTs under investigation are a poor choice to address the tax issues arising from digitalization of the economy and will work against the economic recovery they are intended to help fund,” said USCIB Vice President for Taxation Policy Carol Doran Klein. “Rather, the U.S. should work cooperatively to find an appropriate multilateral solution to taxing the digitalizing economy that does not unduly burden U.S. interests and fosters certainty for business.”

USCIB Applauds USTR’s Announcement to Include Ed Potter in USMCA Labor Mechanism

Ed Potter addressing the ILO Conference in Geneva in 2015.

New York, NY, July 20, 2020: The U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), which represents many of America’s leading global companies, applauded the U.S. Trade Representative’s recent announcement of a select panel for the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism, a key tool for the enforcement of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade agreement.

“We welcome the inclusion of Ed Potter as one of the select panel members. Potter has worked extensively with USCIB for decades, most recently as former senior counsel for International Labor Affairs and prior to that as a chair of USCIB’s International Labor Affairs Committee (now the Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs Committee). Potter is an International Advisory Council Member at the Institute for Human Rights and Business.  For over two decades, he participated on the ILO Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations that holds countries accountable for their obligations resulting from the ratification of ILO conventions.”

Potter is joined by Janice Bellace (Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania), Lance Compa (Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations), Peter Hurtgen (Curley, Hurtgen & Johnsrud LLP), Ira Jaffe (Arbitrator and mediator for labor, employment and benefits disputes) and Kevin Kolben (Rutgers Business School).

The Rapid Response Labor Mechanism, a bilateral annex of the USMCA between the U.S. and Mexico, allows the U.S. to take expedited enforcement actions against individual factories in Mexico that fail to comply with domestic freedom of association and collective bargaining laws.

About USCIB:

USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world, generating $5 trillion in annual revenues and employing over 11 million people worldwide. As the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Organization of Employers, and Business at OECD (known as BIAC), USCIB helps to provide business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment. More information is available at www.uscib.org.

USTR Must Urge Canada and Mexico to Honor USMCA Commitments

USCIB joined the Alliance for Trade Enforcement (AFTE) to send a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer to ensure that Canada and Mexico abide by the commitment they have made in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and treat U.S. interests fairly.

The letter stated: “We applaud the sentiments that you expressed in your recent congressional testimony about your willingness to seek dispute settlement on issues of importance to U.S. manufacturing, agriculture and service sectors where those countries fall short, including patent, trademark and market access issues impacting innovative industries from both new and longstanding policies and regulations in Mexico and Canada.”

The group noted support for Lighthizer’s attention to the full enforcement of IP commitments made in the USMCA which protects U.S. IP-intensive industries, such as patent linkages and provisions to protect against abuses of the regulatory review exception, as well as broader market access barrier to innovative products, namely the lack of approvals for imported agricultural biotech products. AFTE argued that Mexico’s failure to approve such products threatens both trade with Mexico and U.S. farmers’ access to important technologies; meanwhile, Canada’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board continues to develop and implement unfair pricing and reimbursement regulatory schemes that don’t account for the cost of research and development of innovative treatments, which ultimately reduces incentives for American scientists and manufactures to research and develop new treatments.

AFTE however applauded the important leap forward made by the USMCA’s digital trade provisions, which include key commitments and significant improvements over prior agreements.

AFTE is a coalition of trade associations and business groups dedicated to ending foreign unfair trade practices that harm American businesses and workers and to ensuring that America’s trading partners are held accountable for the commitments that they have made to treat American goods and services fairly. AFTE members represent companies – both large and small – from across the economy, including the manufacturing, agriculture, and service sectors. AFTE supports actions and policies that encourage U.S. trading partners to open their markets, reduce barriers to trade, and provide effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights.

USCIB Statement to US Government on Remote Worker Relief

USCIB has joined with over a dozen other associations to issue a statement on July 2 to urge the federal government to allow an employee’s wages to be treated as being earned at their normal work location and to have Congress protect health care and other workers travelling across state lines to help with the COVID-19 response. The full statement:

“The dual challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic crisis have created significant disruption and uncertainty for American workers. To lighten the burden on individuals and families, the undersigned associations strongly urge that you support legislation addressing state and local tax confusion arising for employees required to work remotely because of COVID-19.

“Providing this certainty at an otherwise uncertain time is essential. Without Congressional action, employees may receive unexpected and unwelcomed tax surprises when they file their 2020 state and local income tax returns next year – and face penalties and interest charges (and even potential double taxation) through no fault of their own. A federal solution is needed because the states are taking different and conflicting positions on how the income of workers displaced by the pandemic should be taxed. Solving this problem will ensure employees who are working remotely during the pandemic are not penalized for doing so.

“Currently, wages earned by an employee generally are subject to tax by the state where they work. However, due to COVID-19, many workers are unable to report to their normal work location and are working in a different state than usual due to local law restrictions, closed schools, family health or other reasons, complicating their state tax reporting obligations.

“The solution to this problem is simple: enact federal legislation that reduces uncertainty by allowing an employee’s wages to be treated as being earned at their normal work location. Congress should also protect health care and other workers traveling across state lines to help with the COVID-19 response from surprise or higher tax bills. The Remote and Mobile Worker Relief Act of 2020, S. 3995, recently introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would accomplish these goals. These solutions will maintain the status quo by putting wage earners and their employers in the same tax position they would have been in, but for the pandemic, while providing important certainty to workers who temporarily relocate to provide critical assistance during this pandemic.

“We urge the inclusion of these changes in the next COVID-19 legislation.”

USCIB Statement on USMCA Entry Into Force

Washington, D.C., July 1, 2020 – The U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), which represents many of America’s leading global companies, welcomes today’s entry into force of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade agreement, preserving and deepening the economic ties in North America and bolstering the global competitiveness of our companies and workers. The implementation of this agreement comes at a critical time of restoring certainty to U.S. industry in the North American market, as the global market is working toward recovery from the impacts of the current crisis.

The three partner countries must continue to work together to ensure effective implementation of this agreement, so that the benefits of the agreement in its updated and modernized provisions including on digital trade and customs can be realized. Over 12 million American jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico, and continuing to build on this economic relationship is important for U.S. industry for future economic growth. USCIB looks forward to a seamless transition to the new agreement.

About USCIB:
USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world, generating $5 trillion in annual revenues and employing over 11 million people worldwide. As the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Organization of Employers, and Business at OECD (known as BIAC), USCIB helps to provide business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment. More information is available at www.uscib.org.

USCIB Statement on Workplace Equality for All

June 30, 2020, New York, New York — As Pride Month 2020 draws to a close, USCIB joins in applauding the landmark decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court this month affirming that discrimination in the workplace against employees based on their gender identify or sexual orientation is not permissible under U.S. federal law. Discrimination – regardless of the form – has no place in our society or our workplaces. Through our role as the U.S. Employer representative at the International Labor Organization, USCIB has been a recognized champion of fundamental principles and rights at work, including non-discrimination in the workplace regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation or national origin. This month’s decision reaffirms the rights and dignity of LGBT people and brings our nation one step closer towards the promise of equality for all.

About USCIB:

USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world, generating $5 trillion in annual revenues and employing over 11 million people worldwide. As the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Organization of Employers, and Business at OECD (BIAC), USCIB helps to provide business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment. More information is available at www.uscib.org.

Contact:
Kira Yevtukhova, USCIB
+1 202.617.3160, kyevtukhova@uscib.org