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October 5, 2020

WATCH: Pompeo’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights”: Shrinking U.S. Human Rights Policy


In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo created a highly controversial “Commission on Unalienable Rights” to reexamine the basis of U.S. human rights policy. In August, the Commission published its formal report, arguing for a narrower and more selective approach to human rights. The State Department promoted the report at the UN General Assembly two weeks ago.

On September 17, 2020, the Human Rights Program hosted experts to discuss the report and its implications for U.S. human rights policy and the international human rights system. HRP was joined by:

  • Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University;

  • Gerald Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, and Co-Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School;

  • Mathias Risse, Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Administration and Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University;

  • Katharine Young, Professor of Law at Boston College Law School;

The event was moderated by Sushma Raman, Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

You can now watch a captioned video of the event below or at this link:

Thanks to our co-sponsors by the Harvard Human Rights Journal, the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School, and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

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October 1, 2020

Rethinking MSIs: Time to Bury MSIs?—Not so Fast

Posted by Bennett Freeman

MSI Integrity’s Not Fit-For-Purpose report is the culmination of a decade of examination of 40 standard-setting multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) focused on corporate accountability and human rights. Its release in July 2020, coincidentally but significantly, comes amid the epic disruption of a global pandemic and a historic movement for racial equality. Both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter have separately and together exposed (literally) fatal weaknesses of national and global governance; both have challenged governments and businesses to confront inequality and injustice. At a time when corporate accountability and government responsibility are under critical scrutiny, it is useful to revisit what Not-Fit-for Purpose calls “the grand experiment of multi-stakeholder initiatives.”

Despite what the report argues, however, I believe that it is premature to declare MSIs no longer “fit-for-purpose.” We must be clear that the “grand experiment” was indeed bold but not quite so grand. The aim was to supplement, and not supplant, the role of governments where governments could not, or would not, act to protect human rights connected to corporate misconduct. It was an essential start, a beginning but not an end that would be complemented and reinforced by law and regulation when possible. We must not only revisit but revitalize MSIs at a time when, ironically, multi-stakeholder governance models are setting standards across the policy arena beyond the human rights field where they first gained significant influence.

The number and type of MSIs across issues, industries and regions—and their different forms and missions—make it difficult to make broad generalizations that address them all. But I offer a perspective based on my work over the last two decades with four flagship MSIs: as the leader of the process that produced the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR); as a co-founder and longtime board member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI); and as an early board member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

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