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Douglas A. Johnson Photo

Douglas A. Johnson

Lecturer in Public Policy

One of the fasting growing areas in human rights practice are new norms about what private businesses must do to respect human rights.  This class will address different approaches to the topic relevant to students’ decisions on how to engage in the field of business and human rights in their professional futures.

Human rights norms and treaties initially focused on government obligations to individuals to promote the conditions of human dignity and development.  With the rise of the presence and power of transnational corporations, often exceeding in economic and personnel power of nation states civil societies, governments, and even corporations themselves have demanded that these powerful institutions and their leaders be held accountable for violations of human rights.  Three strands of activism have emerged to this end:  legal approaches that seek to both control and create level playing fields; civil society pressures, largely targeted at singular cases of corporate generated human rights abuses; and attempts at self-regulation from within the corporate community.  Occasionally all three of these actors engage on the same themes or cases, but not always with effective coordination or even shared purpose. 

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPs) in 2011, establishing a set of norms and guidelines that private business operations must be subject to the principles of universal human rights, developed by HKS Professor John Ruggie. This course will use the Guiding Principles as a framework for discussion and explore how their development has affected the strategies and tactics of the three strands of action to secure corporate compliance with human rights norms.