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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Undergraduate Course: Business & Human Rights (LAWS10259)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThrough the globalisation of trade, businesses are confronted frequently with human rights issues. This course examines how principles of commercial law, the objectives of businesses, and the demands of human rights protection interact.
Course description This course examines the intersection between (international) business and (international) human rights law. This course does not require any pre-existing knowledge of (international) human rights law or commercial law. The course focuses on how commercial law in the broadest sense can be used to find solutions for the complicated human rights issues that confront businesses.

Traditionally, only states are subject to international human rights law obligations. States should therefore enact legislation that will protect human rights. This includes legislation to ensure companies respect human rights (which includes protecting the environment and workers¿ rights.) If a state does not enact any legislation or does not enforce this legislation does this mean that companies do not have to respect human rights? There is a growing debate on whether companies have an obligation that is independent from the state to respect human rights. This is particularly relevant when considering the responsibilities of parent companies for subsidiaries and responsibilities for partners within the supply chain.

The course approaches the subject area from an inclusive, diverse, and transnational perspective. The course aims to identify and critically deconstruct hierarchies in business & human rights. The course is not taught from the perspective of a particular jurisdiction and includes a variety of voices; especially those voices of the victims of corporate human rights violations. Their perspective often gets marginalised when it should be at the centre of the debate and policy making.

The course analyses the growing international and national framework such as the 2011 United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and relevant national laws, including the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive, and the EU Sustainability Reporting Directive. The course draws on different areas of law including contract law, company law, and tort law to understand the actions businesses and civil society can take to further transparency and accountability for corporate human rights violations.

In addition to exploring the theoretical foundations of business and human rights, the course helps students acquire the skills and tools to assess and address human rights risks in a business context. This includes the use of case studies, assessing National Action Plans, drafting contract clauses, and analysing corporate codes of conduct.

The course provides students with a critical perspective on the challenges and limitations of business and human rights, including issues related to corporate accountability, transparency, and access to remedies.

The course would cover:

Ø The role of business in promoting and protecting human rights: An examination of the impact of business activities on human rights and the responsibilities of businesses to respect human rights.

Ø Ethics and business: the ethical dimensions of business and human rights, including the role of corporate social responsibility.

Ø The Legal Framework: focusing on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the emerging national legal framework on human rights due diligence.

Ø Corporate accountability and access to remedy: the mechanisms for holding businesses accountable for human rights violations, including judicial and non-judicial mechanisms.

Ø Human rights due diligence, impact assessment, and risk management: the practices and tools for identifying and assessing human rights risks in business operations and supply chains.

Ø The role of contracts in furthering transparency and accountability in supply chain management.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Students will be asked to write an essay (5,000 words)
Feedback Students will have the opportunity to do a formative assessment where they can make an essay plan with a bullet pointed answer. They will receive feedback on this assessment, and this will help prepare them for the summative assessment. They will receive individual feedback and we will also discuss in class some of the key points to take away from the assessment.

For the seminars the students will be asked to do some reading and prepare 2-3 questions/comments based on the reading. In class we will discuss these questions.

Students will do activities in class or prepare some work in advance of the seminar such as drafting contract clauses or commenting on a corporate statement of conduct. In class we can discuss these activities. Students can read each other¿s drafts in small groups and give feedback (peer to peer feedback) and we will then discuss these as a larger group to ensure consistency and clarity of feedback.

This feedback will help the students prepare for the summative assignment.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Clearly understand the interaction between international human rights law, company law, and commercial (contract) law.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the current domestic and international legal framework on business & human rights
  3. Analyse complex cases and theoretical questions on business & human rights
  4. Independently research relevant policies, laws, and scholarship in the wider area of business & human rights and apply this research to case studies.
  5. Effectively use the acquired knowledge to structure and develop arguments and communicate these effectively, orally and in writing
Reading List
George, E. (2021 OUP), Incorporating Rights: Strategies to Advance Corporate Accountability (likely textbook)

Wettstein, F (2022, CUP) Business and Human Rights
Ethical, Legal, and Managerial Perspective
Karen Bravo, Jena Martin and Tara Van Ho (eds.) (2020 Anthem Press), When Business Harms Human Rights: Affected Communities that are Dying to be Heard
Bernaz, N (2016, Routledge), Business and Human Rights: History, Law and Policy ¿ Bridging the Accountability Gap
Andreas Rühmkorf (2015 Edward Elgar) Corporate social responsibility, private law and global supply chains

Further Resources

Muchlinski,P Multinational Enterprises and the Law (2022, Edward Elgar)
Gibson, K. (2007 CUP) Ethics and Business. An Introduction,
Bijlmakers S, (2020 Routledge) Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Rights and the Law (Routledge Research in Sustainability and Business),
Ufbeck, V and others (editors) (2019 Routledge) Law and Responsible Supply Chain Management: Contract and Tort Interplay and Overlap (Routledge Research in Corporate Law), Routledge

The above books will be supplemented with:
- Journal articles
- Cases
- Legislation
- Further documents such as National Action Plans, OECD Guidelines, corporate codes of conducts etc.
(a full list can be made available.)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Critical and reflective thinking
Students will engage with different sources, different perspectives, and legal fields to understand further how businesses intersect with human rights & what the key issues are.

Passion to engage locally and globally
This course will encourage students to engage with the accountability gap in the law regarding corporate human rights issues. The course seeks to identify this gap and encourage reflection and engagement on whether the accountability gap can be closed and in which ways this could be done.

Outlook and engagement
This course encourages students to study different fields of law (including commercial law, contract law, tort law, company law) and how these intersect with business & human rights issues. This helps to establish an understanding on these issues through different perspectives and lenses to ensure a comprehensive outlook on the field.

Research and enquiry
The students will be able to conduct independent research in business & human rights through the study of key primary and secondary sources and critically evaluating these sources.
KeywordsLaw,Honours,Commercial,Business,Human Rights
Course organiserDr Johanna Hoekstra
Tel: (0131 6)50 5564
Course secretaryMiss Susie Morgan
Tel: (0131 6)50 2339
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