Intl Business & Human Rights (LAW-808-001)
U* Notice - This course as offered *may* be eligible to satisfy Upper Level Writing Requirement. Students must have an explicit conversation with the professor no later than the end of the add/drop period, confirming that they intend to use the course assignment to fulfill the ULWR. Students must inquire and professors must agree to supervise the ULWR in writing. Students must present a written product for grading that meets both ULWR standards and the requirements of the course assignment.
Human rights have been a significant focus of international economic diplomacy for decades, and this has had significant ramifications for businesses that operate across national borders, as well as for the lawyers who counsel them. The idea that businesses have human rights responsibilities has steadily gained acceptance. International organizations, including the United Nations (UN), have adopted standards and principles delineating human rights, environmental and other social responsibilities of corporations. A crucially important development was the UN Human Rights Council’s endorsement of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in June 2011, which have had a significant impact on government and business policies.
In this setting, the seminar explores the complexities of transnational and national business practices, prepares students to counsel corporate clients effectively in a transnational business environment, and illuminates the myriad ways their advice and decisions may impact human rights conditions.
The seminar explores both the legal and policy dimensions of international business and human rights. Our exploration of the evolving legal framework includes consideration of the postwar prosecutions of business leaders for such crimes as exploiting slave labor and selling poison gas to the Nazis for use in exterminating Jews during World War II; more recent efforts to secure reparations for slavery; and the legal frameworks governing a range of contemporary issues such forced or inadequately compensated labor, Internet privacy, “hate speech” on social media, and the right to health. We also explore voluntary regulatory approaches designed to ensure that transnational corporations do not contribute to human rights violations, including multi-stakeholder initiatives; legal and quasi-legal remedies available for claims against corporations; and non-legal pressures that can be brought to bear on corporations from civil society and the financial sector. In light of the proliferation of human rights-related controversies involving social media, the seminar this year includes an expanded segment on human rights issues arising in the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) sector.
The first session (Part I of the syllabus) introduces students to a classic debate about the social responsibilities of business and the type of human rights issues that arise for businesses operating in a transnational setting. Starting with the second class (the first class in Part II of the syllabus), we then develop a basic understanding of the evolving international legal framework governing the human rights responsibilities of businesses, corporate executives, and governments that regulate corporate conduct. This segment includes an initial consideration of the influential soft law principles adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). This part of the course aims to develop a common foundational understanding of the relevant international human rights legal framework and “soft law” principles governing businesses operating in a global setting, and does not presume students have already taken a course in either international or business law.
Building on the foundation laid in Part II, Part III applies the UNGPs and other key standards to a range of human rights challenges that have been the focus of global advocacy. It explores challenges as they have arisen in specific sectors (e.g., the apparel industry; resource extraction), while placing special emphasis on challenges that have arisen in the ICT sector.
Part IV, comprising the final two modules, shifts focus to questions of legal enforcement—through legislative initiatives as well as litigation—and other incentives for business enterprises to respect human rights linked to their operations.
Textbooks and Other Materials
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Please see syllabus
First Class Readings
Please see syllabus, which is posted here and on the course MyWCL site
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