The Responsibility of Corporations under International Law: Essex Academic Presents at the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights

Dr. Tara Van Ho, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, spoke on the responsibility of corporations under international law at the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati School of Law in the US.

Dr. Van Ho, a co-President of the Global Business and Human Rights Scholars Association, was asked to discuss the international legal standards relevant to addressing business impacts on human rights.

After outlining the expectations in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, currently the most authoritative statement on the issue, Dr. Van Ho focused on the difficulty victims face in securing remedies. These include, but are not exclusive to, states that are unwilling and unable to ensure victims can hold corporations accountable and complex corporate structures that limit the ability of victims to pursue people abroad.

When states like the US take administrative action to sanction businesses, the fines paid rarely go to support the victims but instead benefit the treasury of the enforcing state. There is room for hope, however. As Dr. Van Ho explained, businesses can embed respect by human rights by ensuring they speak about human rights responsibilities, empower employees and others to raise concerns through independent grievance and complaint mechanisms, and ensuring their incentive structures encourage managers and employees to take human rights seriously. This has been done successfully by some businesses. 

The Urban Morgan Institute is the oldest endowed human rights centre at a law school in the world. There is a rich history of collaboration between Essex and Cincinnati.

The Urban Morgan Institute houses the Human Rights Quarterly, the world’s leading interdisciplinary journal on human rights, which has provided a venue for research works from several Essex faculty members.

The Essex Human Rights Centre‘s first director, Kevin Boyle, and the Urban Morgan Institute’s Director for its full 40-year history, Bert Lockwood, were long-term friends and colleagues. Professor Lockwood served as a visiting lecturer at Essex for a year when Professor Boyle was asked to serve at the UN.

A few years later, the late Sir Nigel Rodley, the long-term Chair of the Essex Centre, visiting Cincinnati to receive the Butler prize for his work on human rights and to deliver a speech on the prohibition of torture.

Dr. Van Ho is a graduate of the educational programmes at both centres. 

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