The Corporate Power and Human Rights Project

Lloyd Sturdy - Bloomsbury Festival 2013
Tracking the damage of corporations on human rights and the environment.

By Helle Abelvik-Lawson, Human Rights Project Officer, Human Rights Consortium (HRC)

The Human Rights Consortium’s Corporate Power and Human Rights Project started in earnest at the beginning of the 2012–13 academic year.  Doctoral researcher at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Nicholas Connelly had recently published his excellent article on the subject, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility: a duplicitous distraction?’, in the International Journal of Human Rights; and two new doctoral students had just enrolled.

One of the new students, Jennifer Huseman, had also published an academic article on a related topic: the so-called ‘slow industrial genocide’ of the indigenous peoples of Northern Canada, whose traditional lives – and fundamental human rights  to clean water, health, land and access to justice – are being eroded by the unconventional energy extraction method known as the tar sands.  You can learn more about the relationship between energy extraction and human rights from our Extreme Energy Initiative website.

Manette Kaisershot came to us from a Master’s in Finance in Aberdeen.  As she says in her recent blog post:

“After doing a master’s degree in finance I had enough righteous indignation and academic interest to make the decision to study it further.  I had developed a distaste for finance, but also an insatiable curiosity for the subject that the only logical conclusion, in my mind at least, was to study finance from a human rights perspective.”

With eager experts in finance, energy, the environment, and the sociology of business, the HRC’s Director Dr Damien Short felt that a new interdisciplinary research project in the cutting-edge area of business and human rights would provide his PhD students with excellent experience in the world of human rights research.   ‘Corporate Power’ was a natural name for the project: our research and discussions continued to expose the power corporates had to manipulate governments, economies and the environment.  We also touched a number of times upon the impact of corporations on democracy and rights-based development.  Professor David Kinley, the speaker at our second event on 5 December, is researching the impact of corruption on human rights, for example – adding to his already large oeuvre on the impacts of the financial industry on the ability of governments to realise the human rights of its citizens.

In Spring 2013 we called for abstracts for a ‘Corporate Power and Human Rights’ special issue of the International Journal of Human Rights.  Soon the project began attracting attention from a number of professionals in the area, not least an alumna of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies’ MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights, Sumi Dhanarajan, who has written about her career and doctoral research on our blog.

We received 75 abstracts – and many from highly distinguished academics in the area – and are really looking forward to reading the full papers and producing the special issue.  Please sign up to our mailing list to ensure you hear about how the project develops and our free events – and get in touch if you are interested in working with the project.

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