Blog: Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Integrity
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August 22, 2013
Posted by Cara Solomon
This past spring, more than 70 people gathered to celebrate the launch of the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (MSI Integrity), a business and human rights organization founded by Clinic alumna Amelia Evans, LLM ’11. It was a momentous occasion: MSI Integrity is one of the first non-profits to come out of the Clinical and Pro-Bono Program at Harvard Law School (HLS). In her comments, HLS Dean Martha Minow described its mission as both essential and exciting.
Recently, we sat down with Amelia to talk about the origins of MSI Integrity, and where it fits into the landscape of business and human rights.
Congratulations on the launch, Amelia. Before we start talking about the work of the organization, tell me a bit about how you get interested in the field of business and human rights in the first place.
Well, back in New Zealand, I was occupying two different worlds — I had dabbled in investment banking and commercial law, but was also an advocate at a domestic violence shelter. I felt really alienated from both of these spaces. At the firms, I felt that everybody was judging me for being part of a feminist collective, and when I was a participant in the collective, everyone was very skeptical of my commercial interests. It was frustrating that these two worlds just couldn’t be bridged, that they didn’t speak to each other in any way. At some point, I realized that the connection between the two was business and human rights, and I wanted to learn more about that.
Through my research, I saw the work that Tyler Giannini had done, so I applied to Harvard Law School hoping to work with him in the Clinic. Clinical education isn’t something that’s offered in New Zealand, and I was very eager to experience it. As soon as I got into HLS, I emailed Tyler to ask about getting involved in the Clinic in the fall, and he told me there were limited spots for LLMs. So I spent a lot of time crafting my application, and once I got in, I just tried to devote as many hours and credits to it as I could. I’m fairly certain no one could have taken more clinical credits than I did….I just loved it so much.
What kind of work did you do in the Clinic?
I was involved in three different business and human rights projects. One was the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. case, at the appellate level, with the legal historians’ amicus brief. The second was a corporate accountability case looking at remediation for survivors of human rights abuses. And the third was about multi-stakeholder initiatives or MSIs, which are these voluntary organizations that address human rights concerns within a given industry. Basically, they bring together different actors—civil society, government, rights holders, and businesses themselves—in an attempt to strengthen human rights within that industry.
The goal of our clinical project was to understand how effective these MSIs were, and to do that by creating ways to evaluate that effectiveness from a human rights perspective.
Why the focus on MSIs?
They’ve become a go-to mechanism for corporate accountability given the governance gap that exists in today’s globalized economy. It’s really difficult to get a treaty developed, or to get legislation passed that applies with extraterritorial effect, so the response has often been, “Let’s try to do something voluntarily.”
Enter MSIs. They’ve exploded in number over the past decade. Name a major global industry, name a geographic area, name a human rights issue, and there’s an MSI that applies. Most consumers have never heard of them, but the fact is that we interact with the work of MSIs on a regular basis. The label that says it’s fair trade, the certification of diamonds as conflict or blood-free — this is all the work of MSIs.
In the Clinic, we saw MSIs as an innovative way to get at business and human rights issues. But the questions were: are they working? Are they leading to improved human rights outcomes? Or are they actually, in some ways, stopping improvement in human rights? Continue Reading…
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