LUMS- ABA-RSIL Conference on Business and Human Rights, held on 28-30th of March’ 2019 at LUMS.

This event was held to operationalize the LUMS-ABA project on Business and Human Rights. The event took place in collaboration with the ABA ROLI and their colleagues from Herbert Smith Freehills and Professor Marcia Narine Weldon from the University of Miami.

This project was graciously funded by the US Department of State.

Day 1:

This session was conducted by Professor Marcia Narine Weldon. The session was designed in two segments. The first part of the session was aimed at student participants as well as academics. The latter half of the session was primarily for academics and professors.

Professor Weldon began the session by providing an overview of the context of Human Rights within business and corporate world. She shed light on the corporate responsibility to protect human rights and stressed the importance of due diligence, disclosures, associated policies and Human Rights clauses as part of contracts in this process.

This session was followed by a very interactive Q&A that touched upon the necessary steps for engaging human rights with businesses, how students can take part in this process. Professor Weldon concluded with the thought that small, incremental steps make all the difference; therefore, students must take part in this process by learning how to advocate what they think. They can only do this, once they understand how businesses think and operate.

Day 2:

Day two of the event was conducted in collaboration with the ABA and Mr. Stephan Brabant, Mr. Oliver Elgie and Mr. Benjamin Guthrie from Herbert Smith Freehills This particular session was aimed at introduction legal practitioners to emerging trends in the realm of Business and Human Rights. The session was divided into three broad categories, listed below, followed by a case study for attendees:

1) Why do human rights matter to businesses?
2) Overview of Business and Human Rights landscape
3) The Role of Lawyers
Case Study: Incorporating Human Rights into your Advice

Mr. Brabant opened the session by referring to what he sees as a “new way of conducting business”. Businesses are meant for profit-making and can therefore easily disregard human rights as being beyond their scope. Mr. Brabant went on to talk about understand human rights through common sense and by ‘de-mystifying’ human rights. For instance, he spoke about the near universal acceptance of fundamental rights and how each of us (be it states of businesses or individuals) should avoid having a ‘negative impact’.

The next part of the session was conducted by Mr. Oliver Elgie. Mr. Elgie began by giving an overview of existing international instruments on human rights and an increasing body of law and standards around human rights compliance and reporting. Mr. Benjamin Guthrie focused on the relevance of Business and Human Rights for lawyers. He spoke about the progression from soft law to hard law in the form of local/domestic legislation (Public regulation) as well as the existing and developing international instruments and processes in tackling human rights issues (such as the Bali process on tackling forced labour, where Pakistan is also participating). Mr. Guthrie also discussed private regulation (regulation by business partners in the form of terms to comply with international human rights standards.

The session was followed by a case study and a very interactive Q&A. The case study highlighted the HR impacts through various levels and stages of business activities and the need for accountability for such actions by multi-national companies. The participants put forth a number of engaging questions such as the compromise of due process in utilizing both hard law and soft law instruments. Similarly, they questioned what the position of a legal practitioner would be towards its client, the contrast between profit maximization and respect for human rights? The speakers responded by outlining a more holistic approach to the area and stressed the importance of both civil society and states in creating an environment for businesses to have more regard and respect for human rights.

The activity reflects the overall aim of the ABA ROLI, as it furthers collaboration and cooperation between various institutions and research networks in association with the ABA-ROLI. Particularly in the context of the Business and Human Rights project, the event had a country-wide impact in terms of developing an understanding of Business and Human Rights through engaging the various stakeholders involved in these disciplinary areas.