The objective of this research project is threefold: (1) rationalizing the international legal obligation of States to protect human rights and its operationalization at national level, (2) examining the opportunities of and limits to domestic litigation that seeks to ensure respect for human rights by business and (3) reckoning with the practical experiences of local stakeholders, when they seek to enforce their rights against business enterprises, so as to identify the conditions inhibiting and facilitating their quest for justice. The research project includes a case study dealing with human rights violations in the South African mining industry.
Supervision: Prof. Dr. Eva Brems
Co-supervision: Prof. Dr. Koen De Feyter (University of Antwerp)
Researcher: Lieselot Verdonck
Sponsored by FWO (October 2013 – September 2017)
In principle, international law does not – in its own terms – any impose legally binding human rights duties on actors other than the State. Accordingly, business enterprises merely have a moral ‘responsibility to respect’ human rights. In view of the accruing leverage and power of business enterprises in contemporary society, however, the obligation of States to protect human rights, in particular against possible interferences by business, has gained both in relevance and in prominence. Under its obligation to protect, States must adopt and implement all reasonably available legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures (1) to regulate corporate conduct (preventive duty), and (2) to provide redress whenever a human rights violation occurs despite prevention (remedial duty). Nevertheless, trusting on States to regulate business involves clear risks, since host states, especially developing countries and emerging economies, will be reluctant to regulate business tightly, inter alia for fear of divestment.
Against this background, the Ph.D. research project addresses two questions. First, what does the obligation of States to protect human rights against infringements by business enterprises mean exactly and how is it operationalized at national level? Second, how is the accountability of business for human rights currently enforced in domestic courts and which factors would facilitate the quest for justice? After rationalizing the status quo of the law on business and human rights and analyzing the practical experiences of local stakeholders who seek to hold business accountable for human rights, the research project will develop proposals as to how the legal framework can be strengthened and how the global debate on business and human rights can move on to the next stage.
The research project includes a case study on strategic litigation in South Africa that deals with the adverse impacts of mineral extraction on the health and lives of neighboring communities and mineworkers. Empirical data was collected in South Africa during two research stays (Nov. 2014 – Mar. 2015 & Mar. – May 2016).