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Blog: Business and Human Rights

September 22, 2021

HRP Mourns the Passing of Professor John Ruggie

Posted by Gerald L. Neuman

A major figure in international relations and human rights, our dear colleague John Gerard Ruggie, passed away last week.  Ruggie was the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  In the human rights field he is most famous for establishing a viable foundation for addressing the human rights responsibilities of business corporations, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011).  A brilliant strategist, Ruggie engaged in extensive consultation, study, analysis and persuasion to rescue the business-and-human-rights project from the polarized confrontation that had brought it to an impasse.  His invaluable book Just Business:  Multinational Corporations and Human Rights (2013) provides a model for the multi-dimensional negotiations that enable such achievements. John’s unique blend of kindness, rigor, insight, and attentive listening will be sorely missed.

Photo of John G. Ruggie sitting in his office.
John G. Ruggie is the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

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July 21, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: The Tatmadaw Must Be Hit Where it Hurts – Its Wallet

Posted by Chris Sidoti

(Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series brings together expert local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.This post first appeared on Just Security on July 14, 2021.) 

The Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military that tried to seize outright power in an illegal coup in February, has to be one of the world’s most incompetent armed forces. Since its first coup in the early 1960s, it has turned one of the richest countries in Asia – with a GDP several times higher than some of its neighbours – into what is fast becoming a failed state.

The military has spent decades ruining Myanmar’s institutions and economy, while committing atrocities at will (in conflicts it is mostly losing), including leading genocidal persecution of the Rohingya minority. The army leadership is known to operate by its own baffling internal logic, where numerology and soothsayers are often key to decision making.

We have watched in anguish as security forces killed more than 900 civilians in under six months since the coup began. How can you convince a junta that is as ruthless as it is utterly irrational to abandon its murderous, disastrous policies? Appeals and ultimatums from leaders around the world have had no impact so far. There is, however, something even the Tatmadaw understands: money.

The Myanmar military is a multibillion-dollar enterprise. It has placed itself at the center of the country’s economy through a complex web of commercial interests, which include military-linked businesses and subsidiaries and private crony companies in everything from beer to precious stones. And now, since the coup, it has got its hands on state-owned enterprises too.

Two conglomerates – the Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) – are at the heart of much of this activity. MEHL and MEC, which were both established explicitly to support the military, own over 100 businesses and are affiliated to another 27 companies through corporate structures. The revenue they generate has not only sustained the Tatmadaw’s grip on power. It has also shielded it from scrutiny as it commits atrocity crimes with impunity. In 2019, a U.N. investigation – which I co-led – found that any foreign government or business with commercial links to these companies is at best morally complicit in the Tatmadaw’s crimes, and in some cases even legally so.

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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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September 3, 2020

Rethinking MSIS: Be Wary of the Fox(es), A Power Analysis of MSIs

Posted by Rebecca Tweedie JD'21 and Tyler Giannini

The opening blog in this series laid out two different paths MSIs could have taken:

The allure [of MSIs] was (and still is) obvious. If we bring the right players together, they can learn from each other and solve the given problem by setting up a democratic institution that can prevent future abuses and sanction violators, and governments will not have to pass hard laws and unnecessary regulations. The potential flaws were (and remain) just as obvious—the power imbalances amongst the players are acute and asking industry to voluntarily give up power and self-regulate is a fool’s errand that puts the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

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August 27, 2020

Rethinking MSIs: Are Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives Mere Lip Service for Local Communities?

Posted by Jaff Bamenjo, Coordinator of RELUFA/Cameroon

Multi-stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) emerged in the 1990s as frameworks for engagement between governments, the private sector and civil society organizations (CSOs) to address human rights issues in business. There are currently several sector-specific MSIs around the world originally conceived to address problems, ranging from labor abuse to corruption, in agriculture, extractive industries, forests, the environment and beyond. After more than two decades, however, local communities are now questioning whether MSIs have proved relevant and effective in addressing these problems.

As a civil society actor who works closely with communities affected by resource extraction in Cameroon, I have closely followed the implementation of two MSIs: the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) for close to a decade. The KPCS and EITI were both created in the early 2000s and received with a lot of enthusiasm by some CSOs as tools to promote transparency and accountability in the extractive sector and prevent diamond-fueled conflicts, respectively. Though almost twenty years later, it is quite telling how these MSIs are oblivious to the concerns of the local communities that were the intended beneficiaries of their creation.


The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme: Sidelining civil society and not addressing key issues


Formed in 2003 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, the KPCS is a joint government, industry and civil society initiative aimed at eliminating the trade in conflict diamonds. The KPCS was created in response to public outcry at the end of the 1990s over diamond-fueled conflicts in certain African countries. Today, the KPCS takes credit for eliminating about 98.8% of conflict diamonds in the world.

The commonly used definition of conflict diamonds, however, is incredibly narrow: “rough diamonds used by rebel groups or their allies fighting to overthrow a legitimate government.” While it can be argued that, apart from in the Central African Republic, there are no rebel movements currently using diamonds to fund wars to overthrow legitimate governments, human rights violations and massacres have reportedly continued in diamond mines around the world. And in turn, they disproportionately impact local communities near the mines.

Per the narrow definition of conflict diamonds, KPCS pays little attention to such human rights violations. Instead, they classify them as outside their scope. But such neglect by the KPCS to include other forms of abuse committed by the military or private security agents is incomprehensible to those most affected. In the Marange diamond fields of Zimbabwe, some CSOs have reported security agents for private mining companies unleashing dogs on and shooting defenseless local artisanal miners. Yet diamonds sourced from these fields are certified and allowed to enter the international market.

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August 27, 2020

Learning About Business and Human Rights with MSI Integrity


Q&A with Rebecca Tweedie JD’21


Last month, the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (MSI Integrity) reflected on 10 years of trying to make the world better for workers and rights-holders in the business world in a new report, “Not Fit-for-Purpose.” MSI Integrity, an organization Amelia Evans LLM’12 and Human Rights Program and International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director Tyler Giannini co-founded in 2013, has spent the last decade dedicated to understanding the human rights impact and value of voluntary multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs). MSIs are collaborations between businesses, civil society, and other stakeholders that were originally piloted to give rights-holders a seat at the table with corporations. The new report explains in detail how, after years of trial and error, MSIs have failed to deliver on their promise and ensure best practices in the business and human rights landscape. The organization has promised a new way forward for their organization: exploring a world beyond corporations.

Over the years, International Human Rights Clinic students and staff have contributed dozens of hours of research and writing to projects with MSI Integrity. Rebecca Tweedie JD’21 worked closely with Giannini and Evans this year on the report and spent January Term 2020 interning with MSI Integrity. We recently spoke with her to learn more about what she learned on the project and her interest in human rights.


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July 30, 2020

Rethinking MSIs: Regulating Responsible Business Conduct

Posted by Manon Wolfkamp, David Ollivier de Leth, and Mariëtte van Huijstee

Between 2014 and 2019, Dutch businesses in garments and textile, banking, forestry, gold, food products, insurance, pension funds, metals, floriculture, and natural stones all entered into government-induced agreements to encourage responsible business practice. Over five years, eleven such agreements were completed. These multi-stakeholder, voluntary, sector level Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) agreements have been cornerstones of the Dutch government’s method to  incentivize companies to respect human rights and the environment for years, and can be regarded as government-induced multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs). Inviting companies and business associations in high human rights risk sectors to enter into negotiations with civil society organizations (CSOs) and the government, RBC agreements aim to encourage companies to develop their own policies for promoting responsible business conduct. But are they effective?

The present Dutch governments’ coalition agreement agreed to evaluate this policy, which was executed by KIT Institute over the past few months and published in July 2020. The long-awaited evaluation shows that the Dutch policy promoting responsible business conduct by means of RBC agreements is insufficient. 

The evaluation draws critical conclusions: only 1.6 percent of the companies active in high-risk sectors participate directly in the agreements. In addition, some sectors, such as the oil and gas sector, refuse to enter into any agreement at all. In other sectors, the share of companies reached is moderate (such as clothing and textiles and natural stone) to low (horticulture, metal). Substantial progress in the implementation of due diligence by participating companies was observed in only two out of 11 evaluated agreements (namely in clothing and textile and banking). 

It is also noteworthy that various agreements lack independent monitoring (for example, food and wood), which creates a risk of greenwashing. Furthermore, there is no clear minimum standard that the agreements must meet. Commitments of companies in two RBC agreements are actually not in line with the international normative framework (wood and vegetable proteins). The evaluation also shows that the role of the Dutch government is inadequate. Especially during the negotiation phase, the business sector is in the lead: only the private sector can initiate negotiations, and critical CSOs can be replaced by more cooperative organisations in order to reach an agreement. The government can fix this imbalance by taking on a greater role itself during the negotiations, for example by not financing agreements that do not meet a set minimum standard. 

The evaluation is positive about the role of the covenants as a means to connect companies to NGOs and trade unions, to facilitate exchanges and to develop a harmonized approach to due diligence. 

When it comes to realizing positive effects or reducing negative impacts on adversely affected rights holders in the targeted sectors, the KIT evaluation concludes: “Across the RBC agreements, progress on due diligence is largely too limited to identify concrete impacts”( p.8) and “Overall, we have not observed a reduction in negative impacts in global value chains as a result of the RBC agreements” (p.9). Furthermore, the research reports unresolved differences in expectations between companies and CSOs on the extent to which RBC agreements should function as platforms to hold companies to account.All in all, the outcomes of the KIT evaluation show great similarity with the outcomes of MSI Integrity’s meta-analysis of MSI’s titled Not Fit-For-Purpose published in July, as is exemplified by this picture taken from the report:

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July 28, 2020

July 30 Virtual Event: Beyond Business-as-Usual

Text reads "Beyond Business-as-Usual," with sub, "Lessons from workers, communities, and the failed experiment of multi-stakeholder initiatives," on July 30 at 10am to 11am.


As part of our collaboration with MSI Integrity in the #RethinkingMSIs series, we’re hosting a discussion with some all-star panelists on Thursday, July 30 at 10 am ET to talk about building better tools to center workers and support human rights. The event will draw insights from MSI Integrity’s recent report examining international standard-setting multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs).

The discussion will be live-illustrated by Sita Magnuson, Experience Designer & Educator at dpict. Krizna Gomez, Director of Programs and lead facilitator at JustLabs, will moderate the event.

Speakers will include:

Joseph Cureton, Chief Coordinating Officer at Obran Cooperative
Dr. Surya Deva, Member, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights
Amelia Evans, Executive Director, MSI Integrity
Daniel Fireside, Capital Coordinator, Equal Exchange
Tyler Giannini, Co-Director and Clinical Professor, International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School
Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a key leader from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Read the full description on our events page. Register via zoom today!

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April 17, 2013

Today: Clinic Launches New Organization On Business and Human Rights


Event Notice

April 17, 2013


“MSI Integrity: A New Business and Human Rights Organization”


4:30-6:30 pm

Harkness South

Drinks will be served!

Join the International Human Rights Clinic for the launch of the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity, a non-profit organization the Clinic has helped get off the ground. MSI Integrity aims to strengthen the ability of multi-stakeholder initiatives, like Fairtrade and the Kimberley Process, to respect human rights, prevent violations, and remedy abuses.

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February 14, 2011

Guiding Principles: Defining the Next Decade of Business and Human Rights

Posted by TYler Giannini

In recent years, Harvard Kennedy School Professor John Ruggie has emerged as the most important person in the field of business and human rights.  On Thursday, from 5:00-7:00 pm in Pound Hall, he’ll speak about the Guiding Principles, the culmination of five years of his work as UN Special Representative on the issue.

Headshot of John Ruggie
UN Special Representative John Ruggie

The Principles will be the defining document for business and human rights for the coming decade. It’s really a privilege to have him come and speak about them, right when they’re in the process of being rolled out and voted on by states later this spring.

Click here for a recent memo Ruggie wrote about follow-up to his recommendations.

This event is sponsored by International Legal Studies, the Human Rights Program, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and the Harvard Human Rights Journal.

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