“Business and Human Rights – Negotiating for Ethics”. Really?

BSL & Amnesty International

Professor Bettina Palazzo’s Masters Class had the pleasure of hearing Danièle Gosteli Hauser, head of Business and Human Rights, Amnesty International, Switzerland, present in Business School Lausanne today.

Having presented Amnesty International (AI), a movement with around 3 million members and supporters  working in more than 150 countries worldwide, to our group of students, Ms Gosteli Hauser was introduced to BSL students coming from many different countries: Armenia,  Iran, Greece, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Mexico and Kazakhstan to name but a few.

Danièle Gosteli Hauser, began her career with AI working as a campaign coordinator and in the late 1990s she helped found and move forward the Business and Human Rights work of this organization. We heard about late Sir Geoffrey Chandler, a former senior executive in Shell, and the founder chair of Amnesty International‘s UK Business Group.  Sir Geoffrey who had challenged AI on only talking to governments. This was very important, he believed, but he said that AI had also to target the private sector: in the era of globalisation, which allowed companies to merge and build powerful transnational companies, it became necessary to challenge them to take human rights into consideration in their daily business.

An exercise and a film clip dealing with the human cost of producing an iPad in China led to interesting reactions from students.  Would consumers really be willing to pay more to ensure correct conditions for workers?

Amnesty International at BSL

Robin Cornelius, CEO of Switcher, a Swiss company explained to consumers some years ago that if they paid a little more for their garments, the people doing the work would also get a better salary and have better working conditions.

The textile, extractive (such as oil or diamonds) and tourism industries were highlighted and examples of human rights abuses and their consequences for local communities discussed. Corporations such as Shell, Nike, Kuoni, Nestlé and ABB have had to sit down and think about how they deal with such issues in their companies; with regards to their suppliers, supply chains, security forces, employees and all stakeholders they deal with.

As for small and medium-sized companies, “it’s a jungle out there”, said Ms Gosteli Hauser “and those companies need tools and guidance”. Amnesty International worked on different ways of helping companies. The organization published with the International Business Leaders Forum a “Geography of Corporate Risk” to help different industry sectors understand the risks they could face. The Swiss Section of AI published “Doing Business in China” to give advice to all companies, including SMEs, on how to deal with human rights challenges when doing business in China. A useful source of information, Ms Gosteli Hauser suggested, is the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre founded by Chris Avery, senior legal officer at Amnesty International.

Awareness building, naming and shaming, and lobbying both companies and government are all undertaken by Gosteli Hauser and Amnesty International. The United Nations activity and the work of John Ruggie are underway but the problems of Business and Human Rights abuses remain. Business managers need to understand the problems they may face, to integrate human rights into their business practice and governments must regulate and control their companies.

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


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