Overview: Corporate executives and their advisors increasingly address issues at the intersection of business and human rights. Alongside governments, companies often are viewed both as a source of human rights abuse and as international actors with the capacity to promote human rights.
Over the last twenty years, human rights advocates have shined a spotlight on human rights conditions in transnational industries including oil and mining; manufacturing; agriculture; pharmaceuticals; and internet/telecommunications. The abuses at issue include complicity with governments that violate human rights, child and forced labor, limits on freedom of expression and association, and dangerous and unhealthy conditions for workers and communities. During the same period, business and human rights has emerged as a distinct field within the broader corporate responsibility movement. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011), for example, define a corporate responsibility to respect human rights. In response to growing pressure to address human rights issues, some transnational companies have begun to conduct human rights due diligence and integrate human rights considerations in corporate policies and practices.
This seminar analyzes the issues faced by advocates and business managers at the intersection of business operations and efforts to promote international human rights. Drawing on international standards, industry case studies, legal proceedings, the work of international organizations, and a growing academic literature, the class explores four inter-related themes: 1) corporate responsibility; 2) human rights standards; 3) corporate accountability; and 4) business practice.
Requirements and Grading: The seminar will meet once weekly for two hours. There will be assigned readings, class discussion and in-class exercises. Grading will be based on (i) class participation, including in-class exercises; (ii) two short written assignments; and (iii) a seminar paper in the form of a legal memo to the CEO of a company facing human rights challenges.
To ensure that students will be exposed to a wide range of views and experience, the seminar may include guest participants. Representatives of multinational businesses, international organizations, human rights and other non-governmental organizations may be invited to join class sessions and contribute their special knowledge on the topics to be discussed.