Today marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone instrument that recognized the dignity and rights of all individuals throughout the world. The UDHR proclaimed a global call for education on these rights and for measures to make respect for these rights a reality. The OU College of Law answered this call several years ago by creating the first Center for International Business & Human Rights (@OULawIBHR) at a U.S. law school.
The field of business and human rights is relatively new. In 2011, the United Nations unanimously adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which were endorsed by the U.S. government. According to these principles, businesses are supposed to respect human rights by, among other things, adopting human rights policies based on international standards such as the UDHR, hiring international human rights experts to help companies avoid infringements of rights, and engaging in due diligence to avoid adverse impacts on human rights in the conduct of their business operations (e.g., checking their supply chains for negative human rights impacts, training security forces to respect the rights of protesters, etc.).
A 2016 survey found that, of 275 general counsels and senior counsel surveyed, 46% of businesses have human rights policies. For companies making $10 billion+ in revenue, 84% have human rights policies. Of great significance to law schools and the legal profession, the study also found that more often than not companies expect their legal teams to have the lead with respect to their corporate human rights programs.
OU Law’s Center for International Business & Human Rights has been a leader among law schools in preparing students to thrive in this new and growing field. The Center provides cutting-edge courses to train students. For example, last year Professor Evelyn Aswad’s Human Rights Practicum students conducted research for the U.S. State Department’s Business & Human Rights Unit and presented their findings directly to the Department’s officials in Washington, D.C.
Students in OU Law’s Business & Human Rights class and International Law Society last year met with practitioners in this field from companies (such as ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Kosmos Energy), NGOs (including Access Now), the U.S. State Department, NATO, and the head of the Corporate Social Responsibility practice group at the law firm of Arent Fox.
The Center’s team is also active in engaging at the local, national, and international level on implementation of the UNGPs. For example, in the last year, Professor Aswad spoke about business and human rights issues in venues ranging from the Tulsa Committee on Foreign Relations to RightsCon, a global conference on digital rights. In coordination with the Oklahoma Bar Association’s new International Law Section, the Center’s Legal & Policy Associate Rebeca West organized continuing legal education programs for Oklahoma Bar members on business and human rights topics. Professor Aswad and Rebeca also recently participated in the UN Forum on Business & Human Rights, which is the largest gathering in the world on these issues. They met with representatives from law firms, companies, and NGOs who are working on these topics. They were delighted to see Abby Henderson (OU Law ’18), a former intern with the Center and alumna of its courses, present her research on business and human rights at the UN Forum in Geneva.
They have also been delighted by the support shown to the Center by its Advisory Board, Young Alumni Council, and Student Advisory Council.
“People are often surprised to find out that the University of Oklahoma College of Law was the first law school in the country to launch a Center in this dynamic and evolving human rights field,” reflected Professor Evelyn Aswad. “They shouldn’t be surprised; we are Sooners.”
More News & Media
Prof. Chris Odinet Authors Book on Housing Crisis of 2008 and Its Lingering Impact
In his new book, Foreclosed: Mortgage Servicing and the Hidden Architecture of Homeownership in America, Professor Chris Odinet provides a revealing look at the 2008 housing crash and its aftermath – including an analysis of abuses that continue to be inflicted upon homeowners as well as possible solutions.
Melissa Caperton, Director of Communications
OU Law Hosts Black History Talk with Civil Rights Pioneer Dr. George Henderson
Dr. George Henderson, a former OU dean, faculty member and champion of the civil rights movement, joined OU Law students on Tuesday, Feb. 26, for a discussion on African-American history.
Rachel Egli, Communications and Events Coordinator
Five Inducted into Hall of Fame
Last week, the OU College of Law honored five distinguished alumni at its annual Order of the Owl Hall of Fame ceremony.
Melissa Caperton, Director of Communications