Monday, November 28, 2016

A Call for Papers / Panel

My friend Ginee (Pillay) and Colin Moore have issued a call for papers & a call for panels around the theme "Interrogating the Corporation." It will serve as a stream at the 2017 meeting of the Socio-Legal Studies Association, in beautiful(?) Newcastle upon Tyne, England. According to the call for papers:

This new stream provides a space for those who wish to critique, interrogate, reform, derogate, or defend, the corporate form. Since corporations possess distinct personalities within the legal order, we welcome papers that address specific regulatory issues concerning such personality, or indeed wider corporate activity. We also welcome contributions focussing on the presence and effect of corporations on a wide range of critical socio-legal issues. 

Find the remainder of the call - or submit an abstract - here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Now you can subscribe via email! :)

Remember how I said that the bells and whistles would come as the blog developed? Well, I have my first bell and whistle (technically bell or whistle, I guess).  You can now subscribe for the posts to be sent to you via email. Find the little 'subscribe' box on the right-hand side, just below my bio.

If you have more suggestions for bells and/or whistles, please feel free to share either through a comment here or via email. 

Where do we go from here? Business & Human Rights Post-#BrexiTrump

My plan is to move to posting on Mondays, but as I posted so much over the weekend, I'm going to cheat this week and use my post for the Essex Human Rights Centre Blog, hosted by my alma mater the University of Essex. When I post elsewhere, I'll cross-post a snippet here with a link to the larger piece on the original blog. 

This year’s UN Forum on Business and Human Rights took place last week. Repeatedly, speakers raised the significance of #brexiTrump (the combination of the #brexit and Trump votes) while questioning its impact for the field. This post attempts to respond to questions from colleagues in the field about where we go from here and how we support students who want to pursue B&HR.
For those unfamiliar with business and human rights, it’s the subfield that focuses on how businesses negatively impact human rights and how we should best respond to those impacts. The focus is on the negative impacts because while we recognize that businesses – all businesses – can have positive impacts on human rights, businesses are not allowed to “offset” their negative human rights impacts by providing positive ones elsewhere. Instead, businesses are expected, at a minimum, to respect the range of human rights for all people, to mitigate any threats they can identify in advance, and to remedy any impacts that are unavoidable. Businesses are to take responsibility for their impacts across the range of human rights (the leading document calls for them to consider the rights present in the UDHRICCPRICESCR, and the ILO’s fundamental Conventions) and for all individuals they impact.
So in light of #brexiTrump, where should the field go? I have three “takeaways” for the field of B&HR.

  1. We share concerns with Trump supporters. Let’s influence the discussion.
See the rest of the longer post here.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Norwegian Bank Pulls out of Dakota Access Pipeline

A press release claims that Norway's largest bank, DNB, has responded to a Greenpeace-supported petition by selling its assets in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. 

For those unfamiliar with the Dakota Access Pipeline, the US-based pipeline is being developed by Texas-based Energy Transfer and is intended to span 1,172 miles (1886.151km). An estimated 85% of the pipeline is completed already, and once finished it will reportedly carry 500,000 gallons of crude oil each day. 

It will cross under a lake that the government owns, over traditional lands claimed by indigenous communities, including burial sites, without those communities' consent, and it will cross the Missouri River, the longest river in the US and one of the country's most important watersheds.  

Federal regulators have temporarily halted the project as they re-review the proposal. 
President Obama has expressed hope that they can still address the concerns of indigenous and other activists. 

The project has resulted in numerous human rights violations, many of which have been outlined by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai. Amongst the worst human rights violations are the use of police dogs and private military and security companies to disrupt protesters encamped near a construction site. Police dogs bit protesters, while police have reportedly used rubber bullets and mace, and there have been allegations that detained protesters "were housed in what appeared to be dog kennels, without bedding or furniture." 

The response to protests has also led to absurd attempts to silence media reports. Amy Goodman was famously arrested and charged with "participat[ing] in a 'riot'" because she reported from the protest area. During her 3 September report, she showed images of police releasing dogs on protesters. The violent imagery has been shared more than 300,000 times on Facebook (at the time of this writing). Despite her association with the news outlet Democracy Now, the state's attorney general argued that she was "basically" protesting herself since "[e]verything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions." A judge dismissed that case in mid-October, but it represented a chilling attempt to silence the media. 

Despite the protests and the attendant human rights violations, the CEO of Energy Transfers has indicated the company will not (voluntarily) re-route the pipeline. President-elect Donald Trump has a $2 million dollar investment in the $3.7 billion pipeline.

Pressure has mounted on companies invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline. As outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights ("UNGPs"), all businesses are expected to respect human rights, and should utilize due diligence to identify potential risks they pose to the rights discussed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, collectively known as the "International Bill of Human Rights." 

By allowing (requesting?) state police and private military and security companies to disrupt peaceful protests, to cage protesters in dog kennels, and to arrest journalists, all for the company's benefit, Energy Transfers failed to meet its responsibility to respect. If it had conducted adequate human rights due diligence, it would have undertaken consultations with the relevant indigenous communities. Data about impacts would have been disaggregated so as to determine any disproportionate impact on minority groups. The consultations and the disaggregated data should have shown the company's human rights impacts at the outset

Knowing those impacts, any company in Energy Transfers' position would be expected to work to mitigate the impacts and to remedy and repair any impacts it could not mitigate. Mitigation in this case would include re-routing the pipeline so as to avoid indigenous communities' sacred lands and to limit the potential impact on the Missouri River watershed. 

Instead, the Dakota Access Pipeline was re-routed to avoid an impact on a populated city, Bismark. This meant the pipeline was moved closer to the indigenous communities, leading to a larger negative impact. The move has been characterized by the noted activist Rev. Jesse Jackson as "the ripest case of environmental racism I've seen in a long time. 

Energy Transfers' actions implicate all of its associated companies, including investors such as DNB. All of this is outlined in the UNGPs, which expects companies to take responsibility not only for their direct impacts, but also the impacts that occur through their business relationships. 

Collectively, DNB's ownership and loans appear to have provided roughly 10% of the Dakota Access project budget. Even when a company like DNB is not directly responsible for a human rights violation, it is still expected to use its relationship and leverage to affect positive change. If its efforts are ineffective, it must determine (1) if the relationship is necessary for its operations and (2) if it can remedy its impact. If a relationship is not necessary -- and it's difficult to imagine how a loan relationship can be 'necessary' for the bank making the loan -- and the impact cannot be remedied, the company likely needs to cut off its relationship. 

It appears from its divestment, DNB has determined its leverage cannot adequately impact Energy Transfers' plans or conduct. The good news is that it recognized this and divested its ownership interests. The bad news is that DNB has not yet cancelled its loans

The bifurcated response by DNB raises a few questions. Since DNB is Norwegian, one might assume that the company has received adequate guidance about incorporating human rights into its loan conditions. If they have, why is the company continuing to provide three loans to Energy Transfers? If there is no human rights clause in the loan agreement, why not? 

DNB should explain its ongoing relationship with Energy Transfers. If the company has a human rights clause in its loan terms, then it needs to explain why it is still supporting these projects when it has recognized that Energy Transfers' actions are causing human rights violations. Either it must believe it can affect change -- in which case its ownership divestment may have been premature -- or it must recognize such attempts are futile and cancel its loans.

If, on the other hand, the company failed to include human rights in the loan terms, this should be treated as a potential 'learning moment,' in which the company assesses its practices and reforms so as to ensure its ongoing respect for human rights. But the Norwegian government and civil society should make it clear to DNB that the company only gets one 'learning' moment. Any repetition of this conduct should come with significant consequences from the state and from consumers who use the bank. 

This may be more difficult for the Norwegian government than it is for individual consumers. It turns out that the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (a state-operated investment entity that generates revenue for the state) and the National Local Government Pension Fund (a state pension fund) have both invested in companies involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline. The state's own commitment to human rights should therefore be questioned. 

Norway is often hailed for its human rights compliance, but a state that benefits financially from repeated -- and serious -- violations of indigenous peoples' rights cannot be a paragon of human rights virtue. If Norway wants to retain the respect it has earned in the area of human rights, it must do the necessary work to actually comply with human rights. 

In this case, the Norwegian funds and the Norwegian state should be using their leverage to ensure the pipeline is rerouted so as to protect the indigenous community. If they cannot get the project rerouted, they need to terminate their relationships with the companies supporting the project. Anything less and we should assume the state is knowingly benefiting from ongoing human rights violations in the US, and condemn it for doing so.

UPDATE:  Since first writing this post, the situation for Dakota Access Pipeline protesters appears to have gotten worse. Much worse. Video from protesters last night indicate that the police used water canons on the protesters - at night in 26F/-3C weather. The police claim that water canons were not used, but instead that "water was only deployed to put out fires set by" the protesters. The use of water canons in this situation can give rise to a violation of the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It may even give rise to a violation of the prohibition on the use of torture, depending on the various factors. Given the gravity of these accusations, the US government is under an obligation to institute a proper investigation into the water canon allegations -- investigations that should not be done by the local Sheriff or state police agencies, but from independent and external agencies. Additionally, DNB and the Norwegian funds should begin their own investigation in line with traditional human rights due diligence. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Call for Rethinking the UN Forum on Business & Human Rights

When starting a blog, I always think it's a good idea to start small, on a minor issue, like reforming a five-year-long process that has been at the heart of the UN and international discourse on business and human rights. (that was sarcasm.)

The Forum concluded Wednesday and as anyone following me on twitter knows, I have been struggling with the purpose and effectiveness of the Forum's setup this year. It didn't help that I twice sat in on sessions where the 'lead' speakers -- people releasing their organization's great best practice guidance -- were clearly not experts on human rights or the law or how to implement human rights law (an example of that shortly). 

After a frustrating week, I thought about what we could do differently (and by 'we' I obviously mean the UNWG and the OHCHR, as I have no power in this decision). I think I have a 'solution' to what I've been struggling with... 

What if we put victims - not businesses - at the heart of the Forum?  

The business centered focus of the Forum is best evidenced by the plenary setups. This year's plenaries followed a familiar pattern - first "leaders" discuss the issues for the week, with a significant presence from businesses (this year in the form of Aviva's CEO and the Programme Director of the Global Business and Sustainable Development Commission). The second plenary brings together representative stakeholders for a conversation about the benefits and challenges of the UNGPs. Again, business is well represented (Anglo American's CEO and a Director for BT Group and Standard Chartered), while states / intergovernmental organizations feature prominently (Kenya, OAS), and CSOs are represented by a single person (this year, Global Witness's CEO). 

Finally, in the third plenary we heard from Laura Caceres, Berta Caceres's daughter. Then we finished up with reflections on our hopes for the future. As usually happens, we had both a positive business perspective (this year provided by the wonderful Vanessa Zimmerman), and a strong CSO presence (from one of my favs, ICAR's Amol Mehra). In the past, the makeup has been slightly different but never dramatically so.

Let's think of what this structure tells us. Whoever speaks first, sets the agenda for two days; their comments are quoted, built on, and responded to. Whoever speaks last has the benefit of helping us set the agenda for the future but they lose the momentum of having 2500 people gathered in one place thinking of what they said and how they can respond to the demands made. By placing business at the front of the Forum, and victims at the back, we are told that businesses are the focal point for these two days. They are the ones with knowledge and it is their needs and interests that form the basis for moving forward.

Now I know members of the OHCHR and UNWG would object to that characterization. They would possibly argue that the business leaders and thought leaders allow us to focus on the practical impacts of the UNGPs and are showing us how business can work towards the integration of human rights. But that's not what I hear when I hear business speak first - and I suspect it's not what victims hear either. 

What Happens when the Forum Starts with Business and Works its Way Back to Victims?

When the Forum starts from the point of business, the story of the UNGPs gets skewed. This year, more than any other, I felt that the understanding of the UNGPs as minimum expectations for business conduct was lost. The opening plenary included Mark Wilson, CEO of Aviva. He was persuasive and 80% of me believes that his company is firmly committed to human rights. But he presented the issue of business & human rights in the framework of its benefits to business. 

As Ruggie said himself, the UNGPs aren't about the benefits to business; they were meant to provide a benefit to the *humans* whose rights are threatened. If businesses gain because of human rights compliance, that's great. If they lose because of it, c'est la vie and deal with it. That might sound like a harsh response to a very real struggle businesses face -- and I appreciate the complexity of issues involved and I promise that we will get to discuss those issues with future posts -- but it is the natural consequence of recognizing that business compliance with human rights is a minimum expectation, not a nice additional benefit. As I tweeted during the opening plenary - the business case for human rights is great but the human rights case for human rights should be enough.

Later on in that first day, I sat in a session on the investor "ecosystem" in which Aviva's Chief Responsible Investment Officer was present. The ecosystem was presented as important information for NGOs to have so they could "put pressure on" companies and investment funds. This session focused on "helping" individuals and NGOs understand the power they could wield and the pressure points where they could affect change. That's a great tool to have - truly - but what I was expecting, and what is needed if you put human rights first, is a discussion centered on how investment companies translate the UNGPs into their work and into the investment infrastructure. 

Let's look for a second at the graphic that Aviva put out showing the investor ecosystem. 

Everything in that ecosystem except the individual investors on the right and the individual workers on the left -- everything else -- is a business. Each entity carries with it the responsibilities set out in the UNGPs. 

Telling NGOs and individuals that their pressure is necessary before change will occur implicitly presents a picture by which businesses are not responsible for ensuring their own compliance with human rights. With such an approach, 'human rights' becomes a commodity rather than a responsibility, and due diligence becomes something that companies should be praised for instead of a minimum expectation.

I understand that a few years ago we needed to praise companies for developing due diligence. We were solidifying support for the UNGPs by showing that companies could successfully take on board their demands and that the companies understood their responsibility. But five years later, businesses shouldn't get a gold star for meeting our minimum expectations and we shouldn't continue to suggest it's the responsibility of NGOs and individuals to put pressure on businesses to comply with the UNGPs. We should be operating under an assumption of compliance, condemning those who fail to meet that standard and wrestling with the actual and real problems businesses face when implementing due diligence. 

Let me put it another way: my nephew turns five today (Happy Birthday Lightening McQueen!*). When he was 2, he started counting. And I don't mean that he knew how to go fast from 1 to 10. I mean, I would point to pumpkins on a house stoop and say, "Lightening, how many pumpkins are there?" And he would hold out his little fingers as he counted, "1, 2, 3, 4." And then he would stop, look at me and say "Thewe's fauw Aunt Tawa!" ["There's four aunt Tara!"] And I would clap and tell him what a good job he did. 

Now, Lightening has a little sister who turns 3 today (Happy Birthday Queen Elsa!*). She is not as good at counting. She knows her numbers and can count, but sometimes when she gets to about 7, if she's not too focused it comes out something like this: "7, 9, 11, 2, 8, 4." This is when Lightening decides to be helpful. "1, 2 ... 8, 9, 10! There's 10 Aunt Tara!" And he looks up at me, thinking he was being helpful and expecting me to clap like I do for Queen Elsa. Now, it is hard for me to look in that face and deny him anything at all, but I have to stop myself from clapping for him. I expect more from him -- I need to expect more from him -- than being able to count to 10. So I tell him, "Yes, that's right Lightening. Now, can you show Queen Elsa how to do it?" And after he takes the time to count things with his sister, I praise her for counting and him for helping. "You're such a good big brother, Lightening. Thank you for helping her understand the meaning of the numbers! Now, Lightening, if I add 6 more, how many will there be?"** 

[*In case anyone is concerned, no these are not their real names.
**Yes, I really do talk to him like this.]

Praising my nephew for counting to 10 would do a disservice to him -- and to the rest of us. He could easily start to believe that the highest expectation we have of him is to be able to count, rather than to pass on that knowledge and gain new knowledge in an ever-developing quest for learning that I hope he never loses. He would start to expect praise every time he did something he was expected to do. "Look, Aunt Tara, I didn't scream in public! Where's my cookie?" 

Instead of praising Lightening for things that were age-appropriate or even advanced 2 or 3 years ago, I praise him for doing things that are age-appropriate now. In doing so, I hope to positively contribute to his development.

The same principle needs to be applicable in how we approach businesses. The binding legality of human rights through the two International Covenants is celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year. The UNGPs, like my nephew, are five now. These "birthdays" make it clear that we should be past the point of either praising businesses for meeting the minimum expectation or allowing businesses to usurp the Forum for self-promotional purposes that ultimately twist the UNGPs into being a "good thing" rather than a minimum expectation. We need to instead build on the UNGPs by addressing real challenges in implementation. This requires honesty and a willingness to work through serious and concrete problems collaboratively. That occurs now, but it does not often occur at the Forum. 

Instead, what we get at the Forum is a series of 'new' initiatives rolled out by businesses, consultancies, NGOs, and academics. Those have a place - a very real and significant place at the Forum. But they alone should not take up 2 days of our time, and they shouldn't be the starting point for each new panel. This year, I attended two panels that I found interesting but problematic. In one, a business sector organization rolled out it's new 'guidance' on an issue I'm deeply passionate about. But as the guidance was explained, it became clear that it was not meeting the legal standards set for states parties to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Those legal standards have been interpreted by the the relevant treaty bodies responsible for overseeing compliance with these two treaties through concluding observations and in general comments. When I asked the speaker to clarify why the proposed standard was so low in comparison to the interpretation of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights -- why it was "weak" in my words -- I was told that their guidance might be lower than "other entities -- I don't know what those entities are that you're talking about," but that the new guidance was an improvement on the organization's previous guidance. 

Now, I'm intentionally obscuring here any identifying information because I share this story not to shame someone I believe probably has good intentions and definitely represents the interests of her constituency well, but ... if your new guidance isn't built around existing law and existing minimum expectations, then why are we promoting it at the Forum? It simply can't be an example of best practice if it's not even an example of good enough practice. Why is it being heralded as guidance that others should follow or even listen to? When we promote initiatives with lower legal standards than the ones victims are entitled to, we are not assisting in the development of business & human rights; we are hampering it. 

The other session included Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani, who was one of two CEOs discussing 'business leadership on human rights in areas affected by conflict, political instability, and social unrest.' Like Wilson, Cutifani was very convincing -- and often honest about the struggles Anglo American has faced. But in the end, the honesty was about problematic behaviour that everyone in the room should be familiar and it really only came after a question from the floor. I give a lot of credit to Cutifani, who, unlike a lot of other business personnel we've seen over the years, did not shy away from the criticism. It's problematic, however, that businesses can come to the Forum and promote themselves as "business leaders" in human rights without having to recognize or own up to their own historical grievances. (And to be clear: Cutifani was not the most egregious example of this behaviour this year.) 

Currently, Victims Voices and Needs Get Lost.

By starting with businesses and working our way back, we let businesses self-promote around practices that may not meet our minimum expectations. It's easy for them to do this because we don't start by reminding them of why we're here -- to find practical solutions to the needs of victims. Victims' voices and needs become afterthoughts to the considerations and expectations of business. 

It took until Day 3 for the Forum as a whole to hear from Laura Caceres, whose mother was brutally executed in Honduras. Larry (Catá Backer) has produced a translation of her longer speech, which was given as part of a side-panel on the experience of victims. It was only on the last day and in the last session that Laura Cáceres was able to set out for all those in attendance the foundation of what the Forum should be focused on: 
On March 2 of this year, Berta Cáceres, Mi madre, was killed for her struggle to defend the territory of indigenous peoples and Mother Earth. This political assassination, political femicide, showed us that the economic interests of companies are still more important than our lives, that as indigenous women, we continue to pay with our blood in the defense of our territories. ... We had to suffer the murder of Berta, of my mother, for FMO and FinnFund barely and provisionally to suspend funding for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project.  ... We need urgent action, to prevent and stop the violence that we as peoples are suffering.
What the Forum should be focused on is addressing the issues raised by Laura's testimony. Why and how is it that states still prioritize business over human rights, what tools have been developed to empower victims and to hold accountable the responsible businesses and individuals, what responsibility is there for funding agencies, how has it been implemented, what actual problems do they face in implementation, what are the appropriate remedies in a situation like this, who owes those remedies - procedural and substantive - and under what circumstances, and what effective barriers are there for victims seeking remedies. Those are the issues the Forum should be tackling. Taking account of how far we've come on those issues is significant and strategizing on how to improve in these areas should be the focus of our collective work.

But because Laura's testimony was on the last day, all we could get in response to her foundational call was the sympathy of both panel and audience members. There was no solving her issue; there was no quoting of her at session after session, no recalling what it was that we were there to address. 

It was powerful. It was impactful. And then the Forum was done. 

Towards a Victim-Centered Approach to the Forum

But what if we had started with Laura? What if the foundational problem the Forum was forced to confront was not how businesses can better integrate and benefit from human rights, but rather how victims can receive better protection? What if that opening session did not involve the High Commissioner describing the execution of an unprecedented number of human rights and environmental defenders in 2015, but was the actual testimony of one of those victims? What if her testimony became the central focus?

I definitely think the tone of the Forum would be less self-promotional, because seriously, how can you possibly brag about your process when faced with the reality of Laura's testimony? I would suspect that businesses would be forced to address the realities of their bad practices. I would hope that they would be more honest in reflecting on what they've done well -- but also what they've done wrong. I would hope they would be able to ask the more reflective questions -- what should we have done? How do we prevent this in the future? What are we missing in our due diligence and remediation processes? 

Some might argue that many of those issues have been solved by the development of the UNGPs themselves. If that were true, we wouldn't need a Forum at all. We could say "thank you very much, John Ruggie," and spend those 3 days skiing in the Alps. We need to be honest that having the UNGPs only get us so far; the Forum should facilitate discussions about the next steps necessary to protect human rights victims.  

Two Modest Suggestions

Starting with Laura's testimony would have set a tone about how far we still have to go, rather than suggesting where we are may be enough. It may have been a somber reality for some to confront, but it would be more honest, and more worthy of the victims who continue to suffer at the hands of businesses.

Changing the nature of Forum may seem difficult when we've just finished year 5, but I would like to start by suggesting two small changes. The first is to restructure the order of the plenaries. Let's start with hearing from victims in panel 1, and then states and CSOs in panel 2, and conclude with states and businesses in panel 3. We can then conclude with some final remarks about the future, but let's let the final plenary be substantive reflections about what's been said over the past 2 days about the challenges we still face. This would put the focus on where it should be -- the human rights part of the 'business and human rights' title -- and allow for a real consideration of what victims still need. Next year's focus on "remedies" is the perfect opportunity to implement this concept because it is clearly victims, not businesses, that are in need of remedies and the effective implementation of Pillar 3.

The second change would be to have a single day -- or even a morning or afternoon -- in which we have parallel sessions all grappling with actual challenges faced in the implementation of business and human rights. We could break it down by sector, and have representatives from stakeholder groups serve as the panelists. After presenting a a concrete issue or case (hypothetical if need be), the panelists could each present their 'solutions' and suggestions. This would allow for a communal understanding of how various stakeholders would approach the issue, it would allow them to discuss their concerns with the others' approaches, and potentially generate new agreement on necessary changes to practice or to domestic laws. This approach could provide clear benefits for victims without losing their voice as the focus of our work. Each session could then result in a report for the final plenary, outlining responses and challenges. I realize this setup wouldn't work for whole Forum, but if we took this approach for a few hours towards the beginning of the week, it could be a strong way to set the tone and expectations for participants.

There is No Perfect Forum.

I realize that the Forum has evolved, and is continuing to do so. I know that it's hard work to put it together and that with the plethora of stakeholders there is not and will never be a perfect formula for these three days. But, I do think we can do better by victims, and work to ensure their problems are the center, not the sideline, of all of our discussions. 

I hope others will join in the comment section with their own proposals for reform.

Particular thanks to Jena and Judith who let me run these thoughts past them.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hi friends...

One of the things I love about working in business & human rights is that I started when it was just a baby field and as a result have a lot of friends who are also colleagues - with the number growing each year. I hope that this will become a place where people actually comment & we can develop a community discussion on issues within the field.

I'm committing myself to one blog post per week (check on Mondays) on an issue I find interesting, frustrating, or in need of greater research. Occasionally, I also hope others will join me as guest posters. I will also post any calls for papers or conferences I hear about or see, and any new papers I or my friends produce.

I plan on this blog being an extension of who I am and how I conduct myself in the world of business & human rights (but without some of the excessive swearing). Here is some general guidance on my worldview and on what you can expect here:

1. This blog is centered on business & human rights only. If you want to read my other views on other human rights issues, you have to go here: Essex Justice League. Be warned, though: we allow ourselves to swear a lot more over there. That blog brings together other Essex-y people to discuss any quick (or not so quick) issues we need to vent about or want to raise awareness of.

2. I don't really do formality -- and I don't have enemies. I only have two categories for people: friends and non-friends. If I've had a beer with you at some point -- or a tea if you don't drink alcohol -- and you haven't insulted me or made me lose respect for you, you're probably a friend. When on here, my friends will generally be referred to only by their first names (their last names may appear in parenthesis). I'll provide links so you can find out who they are elsewhere. I realize this isn't normal in the academic setting but I still find it weird when I am introduced by people I've known for years as "Dr. Tara Van Ho." I'm Tara, a girl from a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, who planned on being an 8th grade English teacher until life intervened and made her into a human rights lawyer. I am who I have always been, and titles don't change that for the better or worse.

If I've met you for a few minutes only, I'm really sorry but you're probably still what others would call a 'colleague' and I'll need to be a bit more formal when discussing you. But next time we're in the same city, let's grab a beer (or a tea) and become friends.

3. Now, schmaltzy "I'm just a girl from a Cleveland suburb" aside... I'm not one of those people trapped into thinking all opinions are of equal worth, and I'm not going to pretend to be that on my blog.

Let me tell you an illustrative story. I used to have a car that I loved very much. Her name was Glinda. (I firmly believe that inanimate objects should carry the gender of their owner, so my car was female but my brother's is male.) Despite owning Glinda and loving Glinda, I must admit that I knew nothing about taking care of her beyond how to fill up the gas, when to change the oil, how to change a tire, and where to go to get her checkups. I took good care of Glinda - she lasted for years.

But just because I owned a car and took good care of it, doesn't mean my opinions on cars are particularly valuable. If you bring me your Mercedes and say "there's a problem here - what is it?" I can give you an opinion on what's wrong -- it's probably the alternator or the carburetor, but you might also want to check the lugnuts under the thing at the bottom...  How valuable is that opinion? I'll let you take a guess... Now imagine you're a mechanic and you tell me I'm wrong about the alternator and there is no 'lugnuts under the thing at the bottom.' If I insist that I'm right and your "opinion" about the alternator is just "wrong," I would hope I would lose some credibility in your eyes.

Same rule applies here. I welcome an open dialogue, civil discourse, and lots of questions. Let's be honest and humble about all the things we don't really know, and where we need to grow as a field. But if someone starts trolling or ignoring the answers of those with more knowledge or experience in this field -- and I hopefully won't be the most knowledgeable or experienced person commenting here -- I'm probably going to start deleting comments just so we can keep it interesting for those within the field.

4. I am trying to be realistic about my time constraints. Those that know me well know this can be a challenge for me. Everything always gets done but sometimes it causes me undue stress to do it. So, don't expect a fancy blog for another few months. I'm starting off basic. That should be clear from the title of the page. My friends Nadia (Bernaz) and Larry (Catá Backer) have fun titles to their pages, and at some point maybe inspiration will strike and I'll join them in that realm. But for now, "Business and Human Rights" will suffice. This will be a project that hopefully grows slowly over the next year, and with time will come more fancy bells and whistles.

So welcome. I hope you enjoy and engage.