July 16, 2020

New way forward for corporations necessary, says MSI Integrity report


Clinic-incubated org documents systemic failure of business and human rights tool

Screenshot of the banner on the MSI Integrity website which says, "Rethinking the Role of MSIs" on the left, "Not Fit-for-Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights, and Global Governance," in the middle, and "Reimagining the Corporation," on the right.
A new website, Not Fit-For-Purpose, explores the insights contained in the report.

Three decades ago, a grand experiment in human rights and global governance began to unfold. In the absence of rigorous government regulation of transnational corporations, civil society organizations began stepping into this regulatory void by collaborating with industry representatives to create voluntary codes of conduct and oversight mechanisms.

These multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) now cover almost every major industry, from certifying food or consumer products as “sustainable,” “fair,” or “ethical,” to establishing good practices for internet companies in respect of privacy and freedom of expression online.

The new report from MSI Integrity, Not Fit-For-Purpose, is the culmination of a decade of research and analysis into international standard-setting MSIs. The report finds that, while MSIs can play important roles for engaging corporations, they are not effective tools to ensure that they respect human rights, to hold them accountable for abuse, or to provide rights holders with access to remedy for abuses. 

“Over time, MSIs [multi-stakeholder initiatives] have become captured and dominated by corporations. So, while they may not have been designed to fail, I think they were destined to fail,” MSI Integrity Executive Director Amelia Evans LLM’11 said recently in a Guardian article about the report.

The report is a call to rethink the role of MSIs, and voluntary regulation more broadly, and for more effective regulation and enforcement of corporations at the local, national and international levels. The report also calls on the human rights community to challenge and change the corporate form itself, which excludes rights holders, workers, and communities from business decisions that impact them more than anyone else.

International Human Rights Clinic students and staff contributed research, writing, and editing, including: Alicia Brudney JD’19, Yanbing Chu JD’19, Sabrina Singh JD’20, Praggya Surana LLM’19, Rebecca Tweedie JD’21, and Vincent Yang JD’20, and Tyler Giannini, HRP and Clinic Co-Director and Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Malene Alleyne LLM’17, MSI Integrity’s Research Coordinator and Clinic alum, was instrumental in the report’s production and dissemination.

MSI Integrity was incubated at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School from 2010-2013 by Evans and Tyler Giannini, who is active on the board and still frequently collaborates with Evans on clinical projects. The organization began after NGOs and government officials — concerned with understanding whether MSIs were working — expressed the need for an independent organization to focus on measuring the effectiveness of MSIs.

Want to learn more about MSIs and the report? See below for commentary, events, and more.

Visit the report website: msi-integrity.org/not-fit-for-purpose/

Register for our July 30 discussion on worker/community-centered human rights interventions and lessons from the failed experiment of MSIs, with workers and their allies from WSR Network, Equal Exchange and Obran: https://bit.ly/38XdplF   

Stay tuned for a joint blog series with MSI Integrity, “Rethinking Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives,” that will be launching soon.

The text above draws from the “Not Fit-For-Purpose” MSI Integrity report launch website.