human rights & business (and a few other things)

Will “business and human rights” become part of legal training in England and Wales?

© Photograph by Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Many thanks to my colleague Dr Susan Pascoe for the info.

On 26 March 2014 the Law Society (of England and Wales) Gazette reported that the Society’s Business and Human Rights Advisory Group recommended that business and human rights become part of legal training requirements and continued professional development.

This seems to be at a very early stage still, and just a recommendation for now.  It is nevertheless encouraging to see that the issue is taken seriously by at least some practitioners. While I do think it is a positive development I can see how this is not going to be unanimously welcomed, especially given the myriad of pressing issues the profession is currently facing, ranging from the tight economic situation to the dreaded legal aid reform. Some in the profession may legitimately consider that this is not immediately relevant to them and it will be down to the business and human rights community to do our best to convince them otherwise.

Documents such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Guide to Business and Human Rights addressed directly to businesses – especially SMEs -  and drawing on research conducted by Dr Jérémie Gilbert and myself may prove helpful in this regard. Human rights are relevant for all businesses and therefore it is not unrealistic to expect solicitors to be able to advise clients on these issues.

Lecture on “Corporate Crimes and the ICC” at Summer School in Galway 16-20 June 2014



The annual International Criminal Court Summer School at the National University of Ireland (Galway) will take place on 16-20 June 2014.

The Summer School consists of five days of intensive lectures given by leading specialists on the subject. The summer school is attended by legal professionals, academics, postgraduate students and NGOs. Participants are provided with a detailed working knowledge of the establishment of the Court, its structures and operations, and the applicable law. Lectures also speak to related issues in international criminal law, including: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, the crime of aggression, universal jurisdiction, immunities, and the role of victims. This year they also have a lecture specifically on Africa and the ICC.

I will be teaching a class on Thursday 19 June on “Corporate Crimes and the International Criminal Court”.

Full details can be found on the Summer School’s dedicated website.

Caribbean Slavery Reparations Plan: What about the Private Sector?


Fort George, Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago)


On Monday 10 March 2014, Caribbean leaders gathered in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for a CARICOM meeting adopted a 10-point plan “to achieve reparatory justice for the victims of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid.”

The plan consists in: (1) demanding a full formal apology from European governments for the colonization of the region and the slave trade; (2) seeking help in setting up a repatriation plan for those Caribbean people of African descent who wish to “return” to Africa; (3) setting up an indigenous peoples development programme, as they remain “the most marginalized social group within the region”; (4) developing cultural institutions such as museums and research centres to help educate Caribbean people (and visitors) about their past; seeking European participation to address (5) public health issues deriving from poverty, itself deriving from past enslavement; and (6) illiteracy; (7) developing an African knowledge programme in order to build “bridges of belonging” between Caribbean people of African descent and the African continent; (8) initiating a process of psychological rehabilitation to overcome the collective trauma of slavery, for example through the development of stronger inter-Caribbean political institutions; (9) actively calling for technology transfers as the Caribbean were deliberately excluded from industrialization by colonizing nations; and last but not least (10) demanding debt cancellation.

Martyn Day from the London-based law firm Leigh Day provided legal advice to the Reparations Commission who drafted the plan. The firm is well-known to the business and human rights community for having acted on behalf of several thousand Nigerian claimants in a claim against Royal Dutch Shell, and on behalf on the claimants in the Trafigura case regarding the dumping of toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire. Perhaps more immediately relevant to the slavery reparations issue, in 2013 Martyn Day acted on behalf of Kenyan people tortured by British forces in the 1950s and managed to secure compensation as well as a ground-breaking expression of regret from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Although the 10-point plan does not include litigation, the firm is therefore no stranger to historical claims.

The slave trade and the use of slave labour in the Americas and the Caribbean is a widely-known historical human rights violation, and it is one in which businesses, along with governments, played a major role. While a number of the companies engaged in the slave trade itself, such as the Royal African Company (see the recently published book by my colleague, historian Dr William Pettigrew), were chartered (i.e. partly public by modern standards), slave trading and the sugar plantation economy hugely benefitted the private sector, in particular businessmen of 16th , 17th, 18th and 19th century Europe. With that in mind, and if the “travail de mémoire” is to be properly done, then the private sector should not be forgotten in the implementation of this plan.

Realistically, it is hard to see why modern companies should be formally called to account in any way since, unlike European nations, the companies involved are likely to have disappeared long ago. Nevertheless, I can think of different ways in which the private sector’s more than marginal implication in the crimes committed could be acknowledged. Businesses could be mentioned in (forthcoming?) apology statements by European governments. Furthermore, a virtuous “coalition of the willing” from the private sector could participate, as an act of philanthropy, to the funding of a state-of-the-art history museum in the Caribbean, which would tell the stories of the various communities of the region.

Annual Conference – 9 Bedford Row and Middlesex University

On 3 April 2014, 9 Bedford Row Chambers, in partnership with Middlesex University School of Law will hold their annual conference on international law. This year they have chosen 2 themes: “Human Rights in Post-Revolution States” and “Human Rights at Sea.”  I will speak in the morning on “Corporate Accountability in Transitional States” and will look at how business and human rights issues are dealt with by transitional justice mechanisms, when they exist.

The conference will take place on board the HMS President on the Thames in the heart of London, a really great historical venue.

Tickets can be purchased here (6 hours CPD).

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