Human Rights and Corporations

Course Description: 

Corporate actors wield enormous power in our contemporary world. As producers, advertisers, sellers, and transporters of goods and services, businesses have important impacts—both positive and negative—on the lives of those who work for them, buy from and sell to them, house them, and live nearby them. Despite their influence, however, businesses sometimes escape effective regulatory control. Human rights regimes traditionally focused on the actions of states, positioning the state as both the primary threat to human rights and as the actor responsible for protecting individuals from violations. Since the 1990s, however, lawyers and activists have worked to extend the reach of international and regional human rights law into the private sphere, recognizing rights and responsibilities for businesses independent of their state of operation or headquarter. This course explores the relationship between business and human rights law from both a theoretical and practical perspective. It will provide students with an introduction to human rights law, the linkages between human rights and corporate activities, and the attempts that have been made to extend human rights obligations to business, both at the national and international level.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students should be able to: Understand the relationship between human rights and business

  • Understand the form and content of international human rights law and explain the practical obstacles to applying human rights law to corporations
  • Be familiar with the role of states, businesses, international courts, and other actors in addressing issues related to human rights and corporations
  • Discuss the role of corporate social responsibility and multistakeholder initiatives in promoting human rights protection Department of Legal Studies 
  • Assess the legitimacy and content of contemporary proposals for a binding international treaty and/or court that could directly address corporate human rights violations under international law

In addition, students should develop their skills, including:

  • Interpersonal communication skills – mastering terminology through exposure, repetition, and use in class
  • Technology skills – learning to work with internet and resource databases
  • Cultural sensitivity and diversity – feeling comfortable working with different legal systems and traditions, applying comparative principles
  • Critical thinking – developing the ability to analyze, compare, and critique different legal approaches to problem solving.

The course will be graded on the basis of class participation (20%) and a final paper (80%).