Feb 27, 2024

Business and Human Rights – A Comparative Regional Perspective


The Research problem

The project tracks whether the evolving issue of Business and Human Rights – thus the idea that not only States, but also corporations have human rights obligations – receives different treatment in different legal regions. So far, the focus lies either on the national level (e.g. the French loi de vigilance, one of the pioneering laws to establish such obligations for companies) or the international level. There is very little research “in between“ these two levels, thus on the regional level. The question of this project lies exactly there: Are there regional approaches to the issue of Business and Human Rights? Is there, for instance, a distinctive European / African / Asian / Inter-American / Arab or Oceanic approach to the issue? Given this lacuna, there are currently also no comparative insights between these regional approaches. The projects seeks, in a first step, to identify distinct regional approaches to Business and Human Rights, and, in a second step, will put them in comparative perspective to enable mutual learning.

Research Design

The current focus of the debate on Business and Human Rights primarily lies on specific national (western) laws or on specific UN initiatives, but does neither take regional approaches nor the perspectives and experiences from the global south into account. To address this research gap, the project will bring different scholars and practitioners from different regions together via a hybrid workshop and a joint publication. The project will first shed light on fundamental conceptual issues underlying the debate, such as market freedoms versus collective principles. In a second step we will take stock of the current debate at the international level, in particular the United Nations Guiding Principles as well as the new UN initiative on a binding treaty on Business and Human Rights. Thirdly, we will identify regional approaches, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages. In a last step we will take a comparative perspective and identify potential lessons to be learned mutually.

Project Objectives

In terms of outcome, the project envisages two main objectives:

1) Realisation of a 2 day hybrid workshop in Pretoria, South Africa.

2) Publication of presented conference papers in either a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal (for instance JILPAC), one of the world’s leading academic blogs (EJIL Talk!, Voelkerrechtsblog or Opinio Iuris) or in an edited collection with a renowned publisher.

WUN provides the ideal organisational structure to bring together highly renowned experts in the field from regions all over the world, in particular in the Global South, and financially supports the realisation of the workshop and the publication.