HRI Explores Business and Human Rights


Gregory Tzeutschler Regaignon ’99 kicked-off the Human Rights Institute’s new speaker series this month.

Increased globalization during the past several decades has allowed large corporations to expand their influence far beyond their countries’ borders, with serious implications for human rights. But are company efforts in the name of human rights resulting in meaningful changes for the communities where companies do business? This academic year, Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute (HRI) aims to explore this question—and the growing field of business and human rights—with a new speaker series called “Is Business Co-opting the Business & Human Rights Field?” launched this month.

“Recent years have seen new attention and focus on the role of businesses in both the realization and the violation of human rights in communities around the globe,” said Benjamin Hoffman, senior clinical teaching fellow in the Law School’s Human Rights Clinic who specializes in international human rights law and corporate accountability. “Through this event series, we hope to take a step back and offer critical perspectives on the growth of the business and human rights field.”

The series’ inaugural lecture, delivered by alumnus Gregory Tzeutschler Regaignon ’99, discussed the field’s evolution, from corporate scandals in the 1990s—like Shell’s alleged role in the execution of nine environmental and human rights activists in Nigeria—to the United Nations’ attempts to codify essential business and human rights principles, including the proposition that businesses have, at a minimum, the responsibility to respect internationally recognized human rights, no matter what country they are in.

Regaignon serves as research director and North America manager at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, an international organization that publicly tracks human rights policies and performance. Based in New York, Regaignon oversees the center’s Corporate Legal Accountability Project, an online database compiling information about corporate human rights lawsuits, as well as expert commentaries on accountability.

“Just because the international trade and investment regime has given lots of rights to investors and liberalized trade, and made it easier for investors to trade with countries that have very few protections for human rights,” said Regaignon, “that doesn’t absolve those actors of international human rights responsibilities.”

According to a recent survey by Legal Business magazine, 46 percent of businesses now have human rights policies. In addition, more and more companies are founding their own initiatives. Much of the time, it is the responsibility of a company’s legal team to implement these policies, making the business and human rights field even more relevant for Law School students.

“It is essential for law students to understand both the different work done in this field, and the field’s principal critiques,” said Hoffman.


Posted November 2, 2016