M-RCBG Senior Fellow-Led Study Group: Uche Ewelukwa Ofodile

ESG Challenges, Corporate Wrongs and Corporate Accountability: Debating Emerging Legal, Policy and Regulatory Frameworks 

Thursday, April 21,  4:00-5:00pm
This Zoom meeting is open to those with a Harvard email address. Register HERE.

Business has helped lift people around the world out of poverty. On the other hand, businesses operations can and frequently have serious impact on human rights and the environment. With the proliferation of multinational corporations and phenomenal increase in the scale and volume of foreign direct investment, the human rights and environmental impact of business activities around the world is growing.  With a focus on recent events, decided cases and developments in international law, the workshop will explore the business-human rights nexus with a particular focus on the extractive industry and the food and agricultural sector. The study group will examine linkages between business and human rights from a variety (legal, regulatory, and policy) of perspectives and explore old and emerging corporate accountability frameworks.  First, we will we look at some recent lawsuits in which businesses have been accused of human rights violation and/or environmental degradation. Second, we will look at efforts to address environmental, social and governance issues (ESG) through bilateral investment treaties and through “soft law” instruments such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).  Finally, we will debate alternative approaches to holding businesses accountable for human rights violations and environmental pollution in their supply chains including efforts, at the global level, to adopt a binding treaty on multinational corporations. Answers will be sought to a number of questions. What, if any, are the human rights obligations of businesses under international law? How are States addressing the business and human rights nexus? How are companies responding to the growing expectation from investors and consumers? How useful and effective are the contemporary and emerging frameworks for ensuring respect and promotion of human rights by businesses?  What is working and what is not? Why bother? The objectives of the Workshop are: among other things to (i) introduce students to the concept of ‘business and human rights (BHR);’ (ii) introduce students to international human rights instruments relevant to BHR and in particular the UNGPs; and (iii) to expose students to on-going debates about the responsibilities of businesses to human rights abuses in their value chains and get students to weigh in on some of these debates.

Background reading (Optional though recommended)

1.     Joseph L. Bower and Lynn S. Paine, The Error at the Heart of Corporate Leadership, Harvard Business Review (May- June 2017). 

2.    United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011). 

3.    Model Bilateral Investment Treaties

     a.    The Netherlands (2019).

     b.    Morocco (2019).

     c.    United States (2012).

4.     Synopsis of Recent Lawsuits 
•    AAA and others v Unilever PLC and Tea Kenya Limited [2018] EWCA Civ 1532.

     •    Kadie Kalma & Ors v (1) African Minerals Ltd (2) African Minerals (SL) Ltd (3) Tonkolili Iron Ore (SL) Ltd [2020] EWCA Civ 144.

     •    Milieudefensie v. Shell – A Landmark Court Decision for Energy and Energy-Intensive Companies

Uche Ewelukwa smiling, dressed in black with a black and white silk scarf around her neckProfessor Uché Ewelukwa Ofodile, SJD holds the E. J. Ball Endowed Chair at the University of Arkansas School of Law and is a member of the faculty of the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food there. She is also an Affiliated Professor, African and African American Studies, at the University of Arkansas’ J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Professor Ofodile’s teaching, research, and scholarship focuses on international investment law, international trade law, intellectual property law, international dispute settlement, agriculture and food law, corporate social responsibility, as well as technology and the law. Professor Ofodile is widely published; her articles and essays have appeared in numerous refereed and policy-oriented journals, she has authored two monographs and is currently completing two books: LEGAL ASPECTS OF CHINA-AFRICA TRADE AND INVESTMENT (forthcoming 2022, from Oxford University Press) and BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN AFRICA (forthcoming 2022, from Routledge). Professor Ofodile is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Affairs. She is on the Editorial Advisory Committee of International Legal Materials a publication of the American Society of International Law and currently serves as a Book Review Editor for The Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals. She is an active member of the American Bar Association Section of International law and has, in the past, served  in numerous leadership positions. Professor Ofodile holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of Nigeria, Master of Laws (LLM) degrees from Harvard Law School and from the University College London (in International Business Law), and a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree from Harvard Law School. Outside of law, six issues drive Professor Ofodile who survived a brutal civil war in her home country and experienced massive food insecurity as a child: addressing food/water insecurity in Africa; improving access to education in Africa especially for the girl child; promoting corporate responsibility and accountability in Africa; closing Africa’s technology gaps; understanding deficiencies and challenges in global governance and their implication for low-income countries and weak states; and deciphering trends and tensions in South-South economic relations. As a senior fellow at M-BCBG, her research will be on the growing legalization of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in diverse jurisdictions and the emergence of CSR language in international investment and trade agreements (project title: Mapping the Legalization of Corporate Social Responsibility: Special Focus on International Investment/Trade Agreements). Her faculty sponsor is Professor John G. Ruggie, Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government. Email: uofodile@hks.harvard.edu