There is ample reportage to evidence the negative effects business activity of all types can have on the provision of human rights.  Equally, there can be little doubt economic development, usually driven through business activity and trade, is necessary for any state to provide the institutions and infrastructure necessary to secure and provide human rights for their citizens. The United Nations and businesses recognise this tension and are collaborating to effect change in business behaviours through voluntary initiatives such as the Global Compact and John Ruggie’s Guiding Principles. Yet voluntary approaches are evidently failing to prevent human rights violations and there are few alternatives in law for affected communities to seek justice.

The Human Rights Consortium’s Corporate Power and Human Rights Project at the School of Advanced Study, University of London has been established to facilitate creative approaches to dissolving the tension between human rights and business activity.  The project will act as a platform from which academics, activists, businesspeople and policymakers can transmit their ideas and engage their peers to robustly challenge their feasibility in order to develop meaningful alternatives to existing approaches.  It will also look at the broad structural impacts of corporate power on economies and human rights provision.


The ‘Corporate Power and Human Right Project’ is an academic lead project that seeks to engage with activists, academics, institutions in order to seek solutions that attempt to dissolve tensions between business activity and human rights. We attempt to move past the discussion entrenched in debates over Corporate Social Responsibility and other pervasive themes and onto ideas that offer new and fresh perspective. We desire to articulate solutions that acknowledge the realities of the world we face, but creatively and realistically challenge the current status quo of business as it related to human rights.

Over the course of three workshops we will attempt to discuss the following questions and their implications in:
1) reducing the influence of corporate power and
2) their potential to help progress human rights realization.

Workshop 1: Tax, Human Rights, and the Corporation

Prompt: Economist Arthur Pigou suggested calibrating tax to reflect a company’s products based on moral standards. In the world of business and human rights there is a dearth of mechanisms available to curtail the unethical or careless behaviour of companies towards human rights; taxes that reflect a company’s social responsibility might be able to redress the imbalance between businesses and individuals or communities. Can taxes be used effectively to influence corporations to be more socially/environmentally responsible?

Workshop 2: Modern society, Human Rights, and the Corporation

Prompt: The Zero Cost Marginal Revolution has been hailed by social theorist Jeremy Rifkin as the biggest paradigm shift in the modern day. The use of technology and the advent of business that exist outside the traditional economy- such as businesses like Air B n B, Etsy, Uber- might see the landscape of the corporate world changed entirely. How can the idea of collaborative commons be used to address the power imbalance in today’s market place?

Workshop 3: Political campaigns, Human Rights, and the Corporation

Prompt: In 2014 the US Supreme Court in a decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, the limits to the amounts of money an individual can contribute to political campaigns was awarded less restriction despite the view that campaign contributions have been said to impede on First Amendment rights. It has been suggested that limiting campaign contributions could have a huge effect on the democratic process; making politics more fair and equitable and, yet, it seems that the tendency of late times has been to move away from limiting campaign donations and campaign spending. How might policy that limits contributions to run their campaigns change the dynamic between politics and big business for the betterment of human rights?

Previous workshops were held by the HRC at Senate House, London in 2015 on these dates:
Workshop 1: 14 October
Workshop 2: 11 November
Workshop 3: 7 December