Business has an important role and responsibility to respect human rights around the world. From modern slavery to digital privacy, respect for human rights must be core to every business decision.
While many companies have established formal corporate responsibility and human rights programs, seldom do these programs have a seat at the table when critical business decisions are made—often with disastrous consequences for human rights. The Human Rights and Business Initiative (HRBI) was launched in 2015 to question the status quo and advance the concept of rights-aware, decision making in business.
Led by Faris Natour, principal and co-founder of Article One Advisors, the HRBI’s mission is to equip current and future business leaders with the attitude and aptitude to work constructively with business to ensure respect for human rights. Established as a joint initiative between Berkeley Law’s Human Rights Center and the Center for Responsible Business at Berkeley-Haas, we leverage UC Berkeley’s world-class institutions to pursue a vision of a world where all companies respect human rights.
To achieve its mission, the HRBI engages with students, faculty, and experts from business, academia, civil society, and government in coursework, research, and convenings.
Courses dedicated to human rights and business embed human rights in core business disciplines taught at the university through guest lectures, cases, and student projects. The Initiative’s core offering, Managing Human Rights in Business, was one of the first of its kind offered at a business school. Through cases, interactive exercises, class debates, and guest lectures from experts, the course puts students in the shoes of a fast-growing community of business managers whose job it is to make sure that their companies do not abuse human rights.
Beyond the fundamentals of business decision making with a human rights lens, the HRBI’s newest course, Negotiating Human Rights Solutions In Business, challenges undergraduate students to dive deep into the most controversial issues of our time. Led by Marissa Saretsky, the fall 2018 class explored the rise of politically motivated disinformation (PMD or “fake news”) and analyzed the role tech platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter play in promoting and compromising human rights given the recent rise of PMD. BA ‘19 Julia Russo reflected on her learnings from the course in a recent blog post.
It is our hope that through our courses all emerging human rights advocates understand the importance of engaging constructively with business to address human rights challenges.
The HRBI develops research that applies academic rigor to create actionable insights and tools for practitioners working to advance business’ respect for human rights. Through case studies, competitions, consulting projects, and other experiential learning opportunities we harness next generation thinking to create content that can be used in class to teach core business disciplines and in business to advance best practices.
In June of 2019, the HRBI released Technology Solutions for Advancing Human Rights in Global Supply Chains, a report authored by faculty member Faris Natour and HRBI Program Lead Jesse Nishinaga. The report provides a landscape assessment provides substantial evidence of a significant market and global demand for technology solutions aimed at addressing human rights risks and challenges in global supply chains. Today, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on these technology solutions or are being invested in emerging technologies that may someday bring game-changing opportunities for millions of workers around the world. Published with the support of Humanity United, this type of cutting-edge research will define and advance industry best practices.
Housed at a globally recognized academic institution, the HRBI has the unique ability to bring together stakeholders from business, civil society, government, and academia to work together to address business and human rights challenges. We believe multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential to addressing the systemic challenges that are at the root of many human rights abuses involving business. We use our convening power to foster meaningful dialogue and collaboration through conferences, speaker series, webinars, and ongoing working groups.
The HRBI houses an institutional partnership with the Microsoft Technology and Human Rights Center to convene its Annual Conference on Business, Technology, and Human Rights. In line with its 2020 Vision for Human Rights, Microsoft seeks to demonstrate leadership in business and human rights, frame the debate about technology and human rights, and catalyze action by other companies in the technology sector and beyond. Now in its fourth year, the Conference has covered topics like artificial intelligence and social impact, the future of work, and big data.
Over the last few years, human rights have risen to the top of the responsible business agenda. From poor safety standards and working conditions in global supply chains to analyzing the integrity of speech in the era of social media, businesses are expected to address human rights challenges in their operations and business relationships. “Business can and should be at the forefront of advancing respect for human rights around the world. And it all starts with embedding human rights in management education – right here, at Berkeley Haas.” says Natour.