Symposium on Business and Human Rights brings together leading academics and practitioners

‘Reporting and Redress: A Symposium on Business and Human Rights’ was held at All Souls College, Oxford University on 5 June 2018.The inaugural one-day event was hosted by Professor Hugh Collins, Vinerian Professor of English Law, and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights.

45 leading academics and eminent practitioners were invited to discuss how effective mandatory corporate reporting requirements have been in combatting violations of human rights and basic labour standards, and to consider the legal possibilities for securing compliance with human rights and basic labour standards in a supply chain by facilitating claims by victims against the downstream retailing or manufacturing giant.

Professor Anne Davies, Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Oxford, opened the symposium by asking just what is meant by ‘business and human rights’ and called for greater clarity and critical assessment of the rights we include in this framework. Professor John Armour, Professor of Law and Finance at the University of Oxford, introduced new possibilities to quantitatively measure the impact of reporting. Peter Carter, QC and special adviser to the Joint Parliamentary Pre-Legislative Scrutiny Committee on the Modern Slavery Bill, outlined the impact of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and Dr Claire Bright, Senior Lecturer at the London School of Business and Management, provided an introduction to the new duty of vigilance in French law. Lisa Hsin, doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, chaired the first session and led discussions focused on the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act 2015’s reporting requirement, particularly whether this duty is doing any good and ways in which it might be improved and its impact increased.

In the second session, the speakers considered whether claims in tort, contract, or some special statutory technique might enable victims to bring claims for compensation. Professor Roderick Bagshaw, Associate Professor of Law of the University of Oxford, highlighted the problems of claims by victims in tort and cautioned against the expectation that tort law is best equipped to fix all supply chain woes and compensate victims appropriately. Professor Hugh Collins discussed the potential of claims for breach of statutory duty as alternative to criminal sanctions. Dr Miriam Saage-Maaß, Vice Legal Director of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, shared her experience of litigating the KIK case in Germany where victims of a factory fire in Pakistan have sued KIK, the main retailer involved in its operations. Gabriela Quijano, Legal Adviser on Business and Human Rights of Amnesty International´s International Secretariat, drew from her experiences to discuss the liability of parent corporations in negligence for the actions of subsidiaries, and obstacles victims face in their access to justice. Professor Jeremias Prassl, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oxford, chaired the second session. The discussion between participants generated heated debate, and highlighted the need to find better solutions for the challenges faced by victims of corporate violations of human rights.

For more information on Bonavero Institute’s Business and Human Rights agenda, please contact Dr Annelen Micus.