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Business and Human Rights (LAWS70382)

Graduate coursework level 7Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework Level 7
Subject codeLAWS70382
Availability(Quotas apply)
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

The private sector represents one of the most important and daunting challenges facing the human rights community. As the reach and influence of companies has grown – sometimes dwarfing the states in which they operate – their impact on human rights has become impossible to ignore. Human rights have become the currency of major brands, helping determine Citibank financing, Exxon-Mobil relations with communities and working conditions along Wal-Mart’s enormous supply chain. Shareholder activists, NGOs, social movements, the media and governments are demanding greater transparency and reporting on human rights. The United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the multilateral banks have adopted human rights standards for companies, and a growing body of soft and hard law (domestic and international) is beginning to define the precise scope of corporate human rights obligations. This subject will explore the fast-growing field of business and human rights, highlighting the most critical legal and practical issues surrounding efforts to advance corporate responsibility and accountability.

Principal topics include:

  • The history of the business and human rights movement
  • The political and ideological challenge to applying human rights to business
  • The legal framework and institutions for corporate human rights accountability
  • The UN “Protect, Respect, Remedy” Framework and UN Guiding Principles
  • The debate around a global treaty on business and human rights
  • Multi-stakeholder initiatives and soft law human rights standards
  • Key legal challenges: effective remedies, 'non-state actors', 'sphere of influence' and 'complicity'
  • Litigating corporate human rights
  • Non-judicial advocacy strategies
  • Business and human rights case studies
  • The business management perspective on human rights and implementation challenges.

Intended learning outcomes

A student who has successfully completed this subject will:

  • Have an advanced and integrated understanding of the current legal status of human rights as they apply to businesses
  • Be aware, at an advanced level, of the workings of the key legal instruments and bodies relevant to business and human rights
  • Have a sophisticated understanding of the political, legal and practical challenges in applying human rights standards to businesses
  • Be able to apply general human rights principles to evaluate the conduct of companies in specific cases
  • Have a sophisticated understanding of the specific regulatory and practical challenges posed by transnational commodity chains and bilateral and multilateral trade treaties
  • Be able to think strategically about the different points of leverage (legal, financial, political) in promoting greater human rights accountability from companies.

Last updated: 30 August 2019