Master of Public Policy   Master of International Affairs   Master of Data Science for Public Policy  

Business, human rights, and gender: The absence of law

An increasingly globalised world has resulted in hundreds of thousands of business actors conducting business across national borders. In many well-documented instances, such as Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, Blackwater in Iraq and Shell in Nigeria, business actors been accused of violating international human rights standards which traditionally have not applied to them as non-State actors. Weak, non-existent and fragmented legal frameworks have contributed to the regulatory gaps and in many cases it is the most marginalised communities and vulnerable members of society that suffer adverse human rights impacts, with women affected differently and disproportionately, especially in conflict and post-conflict environments. Gender taken together with race, sexuality, religion, class, disability, and more, also results in different human rights impacts. These intersectional human rights impacts occur across every commercial sector and industry, from textile production to natural resource exploitation, pharmaceuticals to private security.

The nature of global business has important implications for any attempt to regulate the behaviour of business actors in relation to human rights as national law, public international law and private international law are all engaged yet no single legal framework exists at present to hold business actors accountable for human rights violations. Legal obligations are not imposed on business actors to comply with human rights standards. Law is essentially absent. What then are the implications for States, policymakers, regulators, procurement professionals, industry and others?
In this course we will examine contemporary national and international regulatory attempts to hold business actors accountable for human rights abuses through an intersectional gender lens and with a focus on case studies which highlight intersectional gender issues. In doing so we will engage in the following:

•    Examination of the rising power of transnational business and the retreat of the State within the context of globalisation;
•    Analysis of theories around the social responsibility of business actors;
•    Exploration of the topic through an intersectional gender lens;
•    Exploration of business and human rights accountability and responsibility gaps at the national and international levels.

•    Exploration of international attempts to regulate the behaviour of business actors in relation to human rights e.g. UN, OECD and industry-specific mechanisms, such as the International Code of Conduct Association for private security providers;
•    Analysis of the role of States, Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and industry in the development of regulatory mechanisms;
•    Familiarisation with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which were adopted unanimously by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 and which have become the key international standard on business and human rights;
•    Analysis of human rights due diligence, supply chains, human rights risk analysis and impact assessments and remedies;
•    Scrutiny of National Action Plans (NAPs);
•    Investigation examples of emerging national policy and legislative approaches;
•    Examination of the case for a treaty on business and human rights;
•    Consideration of how to ensure the effective inclusion of gender from an intersectional perspective in regulatory attempts.

Case Studies:
We will discuss numerous sectors and industries throughout the course but will focus on these three:
•    Private military and security industry;
•    Extractive industry;
•    Garment industry.

This course is for 2nd year MIA, MPP and MDS students only.