Five Questions for Business & Human Rights Leaders: Lis Best, Qualcomm

In the latest of our series, 'Five Questions for Business & Human Rights Leaders,' Article One speaks with Elisabeth Best of Qualcomm. Since joining Qualcomm, Lis has championed the company's human rights efforts including mapping its human rights impacts and integrating respect for human rights into key business decisions.


1.     Welcome to Article One’s Interview Series: Five Questions for Business & Human Rights Leaders. You are a dedicated change agent with a strong commitment to driving positive social impact. I’m curious as to why you chose business, rather than civil society or government, as the vehicle for driving impact.

In college and grad school, I became fascinated by the immense social impact that companies and brands can have through their products – in particular the way that they can in many cases touch far more people on this planet than a single government or non-profit might be able to. When I learned about the corporate social responsibility space and the work that companies are doing around the globe to drive economic and social progress as part of doing business, I was absolutely hooked – I knew that, as cliché as it sounds, business was how I wanted to try to change the world. I am passionate about the idea that doing the right thing and maximizing profit can and should go hand in hand.

2.     You’ve led Qualcomm’s human rights efforts for the last few years – how were you able to put human rights on the company’s agenda?

Coincidentally, I joined Qualcomm just four days after the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council. Qualcomm has long been committed to advancing human rights, through programs like the Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™ initiative and our participation in the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition. Much of my work has not been putting human rights on the company’s agenda, but translating our various commitments into human rights language and increasing awareness.

3.     How has the external environment contributed to ensuring continued focus on human rights at Qualcomm?

In the past year or two, we have seen a lot of interest from stakeholders around the world in human rights issues – the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which is a major milestone in support of human rights, as just one example. We’ve also received a number of different inquiries related to human rights – the KnowtheChain ICT Benchmark Findings Report is one example of this. We engaged with KnowTheChain on both the pilot research and the ICT benchmarking study of transparency in the electronics industry supply chain. As a result of our participation, we learned key opportunities for both our company and the industry at large to enhance efforts to combat forced labor. Conversations with our key stakeholders are an essential part of aligning our sustainability strategy with the current needs of our business and the expectations of the people, organizations and communities that have an interest in our Company.

4.     Qualcomm recently committed to ensuring that respect for human rights is integrated into all key business decisions. Why does the company see this as an essential part of it its approach to corporate responsibility?

Respecting human rights has been important to Qualcomm from our very beginning – from the way we do business in our own operations to the way we work with our suppliers and the positive social impact our technology has had around the globe. In fact, human rights are relevant to each of our six sustainability priorities: transformative technology, sustainable product design, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, privacy and security, inclusion and diversity and ethical governance. Human rights is an important component of our 2030 vision because people are a major focus of our work to make our world a better place.

5.     If you weren’t working on human rights and sustainability issues, what would you be doing?

If I weren’t working on human rights and sustainability issues, I would either be a professor or in journalism (or maybe both!). I’d love to do some combination of writing, editing, teaching and podcasting about global trends, technology, food, travel, mindfulness, millennials, yoga... the list goes on. After college I wrote for the Pacific Standard, a solutions-oriented policy magazine based in Santa Barbara, and it was a lot of fun. More recently, I’ve gotten to teach at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Diego, and that, too, has been both very fun and highly energizing.