Osgoode Hall Law School to play pivotal role in UN expert consultation

York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School is hosting next month’s Expert Consultation on Corporate Law and Human Rights: Opportunities and Challenges of Using Corporate Law to Encourage Corporations to Respect Human Rights.

The expert consultation, to be held Nov. 5 and 6 at Osgoode’s Professional Development Centre, supports the Corporate Law Tools Project of the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) on Business & Human Rights, Harvard University Professor John Ruggie. It brings together corporate lawyers, civil society, academics, government regulators and industry representatives.

“This is an extraordinarily important event and Osgoode is honoured to be a part of it,” says Osgoode Professor Aaron Dhir (right), co-convenor of the expert consultation with Professor Sara Seck (PhD ’08) of the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Law. 

Dhir and Seck received assistance in the planning and implementation of the expert consultation from the Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime & Security at Osgoode and the Hennick Centre for Business & Law at Osgoode and the Schulich School of Business. The event is being supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the assistance of Export Development Canada and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Left: Sara Seck

A multi-stakeholder group of experts will discuss how key corporate and securities law concepts such as incorporation and listing, directors’ duties, reporting, shareholder engagement and other corporate governance issues in national laws and guidelines may support companies to respect human rights.

“By discussing existing law as well as legal and policy reform options, the consultation will help to inform the SRSG as he decides what recommendations he might make to states and other actors in this area,” Seck says.

Ruggie says he anticipates that the two-day consultation will result in “a robust discussion of experts from all sides on the extent to which corporate and securities law can be a tool for governments to assist and encourage companies to respect human rights.” 

The SRSG was appointed in 2005 by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan with a broad mandate to identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability regarding human rights, including the role of states.

Left: John Ruggie

In June 2008, after extensive global consultation with business, governments and civil society, the SRSG proposed a policy framework for managing business and human rights challenges. It is based on three pillars: the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and greater access to remedy, judicial and non-judicial.

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) was unanimous in welcoming the framework, and extended the SRSG’s mandate by three years with the task of operationalizing it. More information about the SRSG’s 2008 and 2009 HRC reports is available here.

Earlier this year, Ruggie announced that 19 leading corporate law firms from around the world would participate in the UN-led effort to identify whether and how national corporate law principles and practices currently foster corporate cultures respectful of human rights. Ruggie plans to publish a compilation and analysis of the findings of the firms’ mapping work. He will also consider what recommendations to make to states and businesses following the Osgoode expert consultation.