What’s Corporate Finance got to do with Human Rights?

Dr Liz UmlasDr. Liz Umlas (see her bio below) came to Business School Lausanne to talk in the Corporate Finance MBA class about Business and Human Rights – a discussion very much centered in Switzerland right now. Dr. Umlas is a political scientist who has worked as a Human Rights specialist for a US socially responsible investment (SRI) research firm, for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and for Oxfam. She now lectures extensively on business and human rights in different universities, globally.

Our presenter sketched out the path of Business and Human Rights to our students: from the impact of globalization and the subsequent movement of multinational corporations, to issues relating to supply chain management – a moving film of the Rana Plaza disaster was used to illustrate this point and issues of responsibility and corporate accountability.

A definition of Human Rights was the very important starting point for this discussion. “Human rights are fundamental rights to which all individuals are entitled because they are human beings” was how our speaker explained this concept. Furthermore, these rights are inalienable – a human being lives and dies with the same rights. The Universal Bill of Human Rights and the ILO core conventions  were discussed and explained in the context of government and business responsibility.

The discussion moved on to the global setting for the thinking on business responsibility in this globalized world. We heard about the work of John Ruggie, the former special representative on Business and Human Rights and the mandate he received from the United Nations; the  working group  now moving these issues forward; the discussion regarding national and global legal systems and the major gaps in this system in the light of globalization.

Is there a business case for Human Rights? Should we even ask this question? A myriad of examples of actual real life business cases and situations were highlighted and discussed in this profound and fascinating presentation by Dr. Umlas – a person who has been on the forefront of this global discussion on Business and Human rights at this very historical moment in the history of the world.

We would welcome a return visit to continue this discussion.

Bio of Dr. Umlas

Dr. Umlas is an independent researcher and consultant with 12 years of experience in the field of business and human rights. She is currently working on international labor rights projects for UNI Global Union and the ILO, and most recently designed and is teaching a masters course in business and human rights at the University of Fribourg. She is a member of the Amnesty Business Group of Switzerland, and a co-founder of Sustainable Finance Geneva. Previously, Dr. Umlas was a senior research analyst in the field of socially responsible investment (SRI) research, specializing in human rights. She has also served as manager of policy research at Oxfam America and worked as a program officer and consultant for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She has a PhD in political science from Yale University and a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Harvard University. Originally from Boston, she has lived in the Geneva area for many years.

Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, BCL, LL.M, Solicitor

Stakeholder Relations and Student Counseling at BSL


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