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Human Rights @ Harvard Law

Areas Of Focus

Business & Human Rights

The relationship between business and human rights is of central importance in our increasingly globalized economy. For years, business has been linked to severe violations of human rights, from sweatshop conditions in factories to Shell’s involvement in violence in Nigeria. Still, debates have raged about the precise responsibility corporations have for such abuses under international law. While the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights will frame much of the discourse in the area during the coming years, they are only a starting point. Much remains to be done to advance the decades-long effort to hold corporations accountable for their involvement in abuses, as well as prevent future abuses from occurring.

Matt and Sarah in PNGThe International Human Rights Clinic has taken on central questions in the field of business and human rights. We have litigated corporate Alien Tort Statute (ATS) cases since 2004, including being centrally involved in major cases such as Unocal, Wiwa, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., and In re South African Apartheid Litigation. Clinical teams have also documented rights concerns connected to extractives, including mining in Canada, Guyana, and South Africa as well as gas development in Burma (the Shwe Project). In much of our work, we have sought to highlight how communities and rights holders often bear the burden of industry development or are underrepresented in international policy and decision-making efforts.

The Clinic has also focused its attention on underdeveloped aspects of the UN Guiding Principles. In particular, we have worked in the area of multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), which are voluntary efforts that bring together industry, civil society, and governments to fill governance gaps. The Clinic recognizes these MSIs as an important remedial mechanism, but whether they are effective in advancing human rights is an open question. We developed a tool to measure the effectiveness of MSIs from a human rights perspective, which led to the creation in 2013 of a new non-governmental organization, the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity.

Similarly, since 2006, the Clinic has documented abuses surrounding a gold mine in Papua New Guinea. The company running the mine recently developed a new non-judicial mechanism to handle complaints from victims of sexual violence. The Clinic has been monitoring that company-based mechanism, which has raised serious concerns among community members and advocates.

In addition to supervising clinical projects, Giannini  teaches a seminar on Business and Human Rights with Lecturer on Law Chris Jochnick, offering students a chance to wrestle with current live issues.

Point person for Business & Human Rights: Tyler Giannini

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