Workshop – Distribution of Responsibility in Protecting Human Rights

Focus on Climate Change & Business and Human rights

26 and 27 June 2023 | University of North Carolina – Asheville

This workshop focuses on answering the complex questions surrounding extraterritorial human rights obligations. While the notion of such obligations is widely accepted, the scope and legal consequences of these obligations remain unanswered. This workshop will take a practical approach by examining the extraterritorial responsibilities of states in two policy realms: business and human rights and climate change

Through case studies and analysis, we will explore the extent of multinational corporations’ responsibility to respect human rights, the legal obligations of states to regulate extraterritorial operations, and the impact of Climate Change on Human Rights. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to engage in this important conversation and contribute to the advancement of extraterritorial human rights obligations.

Abstract of the two days event

While the notion that states possess extraterritorial human rights obligations is no longer seriously challenged, what remains unanswered are several questions, including when extraterritorial obligations arise, the scope and extent of these obligations, and finally, the legal consequences if a state fails to meet its obligations.  Of course, these questions add a great deal of complexity because states will nearly always have overlapping responsibilities.  

This workshop aims to make some headway in answering these questions, also by looking into the mining industry case study.  Rather than taking a top-down theoretical approach, the workshop will focus on two policy realms that each have a heavy extraterritorial component, but also where a wide array of states have either contributed to a human rights violation in some other state or else are in a position to help provide human rights protection to those outside its borders.  

Business and Human Rights:  Multinational corporations (MNCs) exercise tremendous economic and political power. MNCs have been able to operate in the Global South with far fewer regulations and constraints than they do in the Global North.  For decades, the United Nations created one soft law instrument after another to address these issues, but with little to show for this.      

The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights represent the latest UN initiative. They go further than earlier versions by positing that MNCs have a responsibility to respect human rights.  However, the Guiding Principles take a conservative approach in terms of the extraterritorial responsibilities of states by concluding that while a “home” state could regulate the extraterritorial operations of their MNCs, international law does not require them to do so.  The Maastricht ETO Principles read existing international law much differently, positing that not only does the “home” state have such an obligation, but that any state that can provide a measure of “decisive influence” over a corporation as a way of avoiding the violation of human rights standards has a legal obligation to do so.  

In 2014, the UN Human Rights Council established a working group to develop a binding treaty to regulate MNCs, and the drafting of such a treaty continues.  In addition, several domestic initiatives have been adopted, such as France’s “vigilance” law, which seeks to change the relationship between a parent corporation and its subsidiaries.  

Climate Change:  Few would question that climate change is – and will continue to be – the world’s leading “human rights” issue.  In so many ways, climate change represents the paradigm of why the recognition of extraterritorial obligations is so important in that actions in one state are having an enormous influence on whether individuals in other states receive human rights protections.  Of course, what adds to this is that states that produce the lowest levels of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are invariably those states most negatively affected by climate change.  The larger point is that GHG emissions do not respect territorial borders and any attempt to address climate change solely through territorial means will simply fail.