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The private sector represents one of the most important and daunting challenges facing human rights law and practice. 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. Shareholder activists, NGOs, social movements, the media and governments are demanding greater transparency and reporting on human rights from a wide range of companies, from Facebook to Exxon to Walmart. The United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 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
- Business and human rights in the digital economy
- Climate change, business and human rights
- 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
- Have a nuanced understanding of competing theoretical and legal approaches to setting and enforcing human rights standards regarding corporate activity
- Be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of such approaches in practice, as they apply to specific industries and global commodity chains
- 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 global 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
- Be able to identify and critically assess the new regulatory and human rights challenges raised by the digital economy.
Last updated: 10 November 2023