Thursday, June 13, 2024

Bad for human rights and for business: Amazon must not build cloud infrastructure in Saudi Arabia – Access Now

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Following Amazon Web Service’s (AWS) announced plans for a new cloud infrastructure in Saudi Arabia in 2026, Access Now is calling on the company to halt the launch and adequately address the severe human rights impacts that would arise from such a move.

Access Now has previously warned against the expansion of cloud services in Saudi Arabia given the country’s entrenched digital authoritarianism, invasive surveillance, and serial human rights abuses. Under the banner of “Vision 2030” reforms, which AWS is publicly supporting in their statement, the Saudi authorities have unleashed “one of the biggest crackdowns on human rights in the country’s history.” Since 2017, scores of dissidents, human rights defenders, women activists, and others have been detained in abusive conditions, under harsh sentences for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights.

Big Tech is eager to join Saudi Arabia’s gold rush, but locating cloud regions in a country that has zero respect for privacy is a highly perilous endeavor. By brazenly dismissing the human rights threats involved, Amazon is demonstrating — once again — that when profit is on the table, respect for human rights is relegated to just a slogan on their website.
Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy and Advocacy Director

Access Now reached out to AWS seeking clarification about the company’s human rights due diligence of its decision to establish such extensive cloud center operations and business in Saudi Arabia, including how it plans to protect people’s private data hosted in this infrastructure region against unlawful government access. AWS’s brief, inadequate, and dismissive response to the detailed questions comes at a time of increased scrutiny by tech sector shareholders on cloud infrastructure siting, with AWS only weeks away from its Annual General Meeting on May 22. Over the past two years, shareholders at Alphabet and Microsoft have asked the companies to assess their siting of cloud centers in countries with records of severe human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia.

Just as with Google and Microsoft, Amazon shareholders have good reason to scrutinize the company’s lack of transparency and unwillingness to engage with stakeholders. The world wants to know how Amazon plans to manage the very obvious risks of its market expansion plan in Saudi Arabia. Amazon must lead by example here by stepping up and demonstrating to its shareholders and stakeholders alike how the company is addressing the inadvertent potential human rights risks to people of Saudi Arabia enabled by the AWS technology.
Laura Okkonen, Investor Advocate at Access Now

Given Saudi authorities’ habitual violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, Amazon must not move forward with its plan to prop up an AWS region in the country without addressing the ensuing human rights violations which its infrastructure would make possible, and comprehensively outlining the steps it would take to mitigate these harms.

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