Curriculum Guide · Courses
Human Rights at the Intersection of Trade and Corporate Responsibility
Professors Altschuller, Biel and Roggensack
J.D. Practicum 1091 | 5 credit hours
Over the past two decades, corporations have found themselves at the center of a growing discussion about their appropriate roles and responsibilities in addressing a range of human rights issues. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have led the push for stronger rules to govern the relationship between business and human rights. At the same time, an increasing number of companies have engaged in a range of voluntary initiatives addressing workplace standards and labor practices, environmental stewardship, corruption concerns, and other issues. These companies have seen such initiatives as a framework for managing risk (including the threat to reputation and of regulation or litigation), a potential source of competitive advantage (given growing interest in industry “best practices”), and as promoting a more level playing field. This class is designed to expose and involve students in addressing the challenges facing business in integrating the emerging international norms on corporate accountability. It will begin with several sessions designed to provide the foundations of relevant legal and policy developments. It will also include an examination of concepts of corporate responsibility and corporate accountability, the relationship between the rules governing trade and international labor standards, and the human rights challenges encountered in a global supply chain. Later sessions will focus on specific research assignments (as described below). Throughout the course, students will be asked to examine the various approaches and differing roles of key stakeholders, including by taking on the roles of corporations, NGOs/civil society groups, and governments. The class will be divided into three groups for purposes of this “role playing” – with each section asked to adopt the three different set of perspectives during the course of the semester, both in students’ individual analysis of assigned readings and in group sessions during some of the classes. Students also will approach these issues through hands-on “experiential” work with a new initiative under the auspices of one of the most well-established multi-stakeholder initiative, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), based in Washington. Thus, while covering the theoretical and practical issues involved in the ongoing discussion about business and human rights, students will also engage with a newly- established multi-stakeholder entity intended to promote more sustainable global supply chain policies and practices. The Forum, established under the FLA, is designed to provide a space for discussion of human rights, labor, and environmental challenges associated with global business operations. The Forum will focus on supply chain challenges – including the impact on individuals, communities and the environment. It will receive requests from stakeholders that reflect a constellation of challenges – affecting both workers and communities. The Forum will work to identify gaps between existing legal/regulatory frameworks and any voluntary initiatives. As a core element of the course, students will participate with Forum staff in issue framing, will conduct legal research on existing hard and soft law mechanisms and gaps, will conduct interviews with stakeholders, will help identify goals and impediments as well as areas of possible consensus, and will work to develop creative strategies to address these concerns. In doing so, the class seeks to develop students’ capacity to provide objective, critical analysis of regulatory gaps and implications for human rights, labor rights, and environmental protection.
Prerequisites: Students must complete the required first-year program prior to enrolling in this course (part-time and interdivisional transfer students may enroll prior to completing Criminal Justice, Property, or their first-year elective). There are no formal course requirements, but some basic familiarity with international trade and human rights law is assumed. The International Law II, International Trade, or International Trade Law courses may be taken concurrently with this course – and, while not required as a prerequisite, will prove beneficial.
Students may not receive credit for both this practicum course and the seminar Human Rights at the Intersection of Trade and Corporate Responsibility or The iPad’s Human Cost Seminar: Corporate Accountability for Workers in the Global Supply Chain.
This is a 5 credit course. 2 credits will be awarded for the 2-hour weekly seminar and 3 credits for approximately 15 hours of supervised work per week, for a minimum of 11 weeks. Both the seminar portion and the supervised work will be graded.