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Fall 2021 Seminar

Business and Human Rights Clinical Seminar

Required Clinic Component: International Human Rights Clinic (3-5 fall clinical credits). Students enrolled in the fall clinic must enroll in either this clinical seminar or Human Rights Advocacy (2 fall classroom credits). Students are not guaranteed their first choice of clinical seminars. Clinical seminar selection and enrollment occurs once a student has enrolled in the fall clinic and is orchestrated by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.

Additional Co-/Pre-Requisites: None.

By Permission: No.

Add/Drop Deadline: August 13, 2021.

LLM Students: LLM students may apply to the clinic through the LLM General Clinic Application.

This seminar will explore the growing field of business and human rights by examining live issues and pressing problems surrounding efforts to advance corporate responsibility and accountability. In recent years, a robust debate has emerged around the challenge of extending human rights norms to corporate actors. Historically, the legal and activist human rights communities have focused on state actors, but as the reach and influence of private actors and companies has grown, their impact on human rights has become impossible to ignore. Today, the human rights movement has squarely engaged the private sector, marking a critical shift and raising a host of issues for practitioners.

The field of business and human rights now touches on a dizzying array of policy and legal areas, including company due diligence standards, judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms, relations between businesses and communities, extraterritorial application of domestic laws, supply chain systems, and whether there should be an international human rights treaty to regulate the conduct of corporations. The field now also includes a growing body of domestic and international standards and mechanisms, which are helping to define these policy and legal arenas as well as the precise scope of corporate human rights obligations.

The various frameworks and mechanisms have in turn led practitioners and policymakers to develop and utilize a wide range of tools in their attempts to change corporate behavior. Some have used accountability litigation, which has seen setbacks in some jurisdictions and advances in others. Others have focused energy on developing government policies and legislation, which has included demands for greater transparency and reporting on human rights. Many have spent time assisting communities, including supporting efforts to elevate community-based processes and community-centered mechanisms so that they are consistently part of the rights landscape and decision-making. Still others have been part of an emerging industry of legal and management consultants that have sought to create policies and operationalize human rights principles within companies.

The seminar will engage with these varied approaches seeking to change corporate practices. The seminar will consider current and live problems, such as what should be the content of an international treaty; or what are alternatives to the current international frameworks; or what should be in a company’s community engagement policy; or how should practitioners approach corporate accountability litigation in the future. The class will also give students an opportunity to choose at least one problem that they would like to focus on, which might include how to implement due diligence standards or what is the role of tech companies in regulating online speech and social media. Throughout the seminar, students will work collaboratively in teams to explore such problems in particular contexts, while also reflecting on the implications of the issues for the field of business and human rights more generally.