In mid-January, I attended the 13th annual conference of Northwestern University Community on Human Rights (NUCHR) for the second year in a row. Having co-chaired the student advisory board at Duke Human Rights Center @FHI myself, I’ve experienced the difficulty of organizing events and creating communities around human rights issues on a college campus. It’s safe to say that the NUCHR conference is the most intellectually stimulating and most effective community-building event on human rights. This year the topic is “Human Rights in Business: A Movement Towards Corporate Consciousness.” Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is without a doubt still just an emerging field in the corporate world. But yet CSR has become ever so relevant and is demanding the attention of governments, civil societies and businesses. Making this the topic of a prominent human rights conference in the undergraduate human rights community sent an important message to the attendees about the value of the work and the potential of the field. I have been interested in CSR and supply chain accountability for the past several years and intend to start my career in this field after graduation. The conference, which included keynotes and panel discussions by renowned international lawyers, corporate executives, academics and civil society advocates, was incredibly timely and inspiring.

The keynotes, panels and experiential learning site visits not only highlighted the various hot topics within the business and human rights community, but also explored the intersection of CSR and other fields, such as impact investing and big data. The first panel of the conference laid the foundation for the weekend-long discussion. It looked at CSR through a comparative lens, reaching into the specific contexts in Africa and China while framing CSR as gender and labor issues. The most meaningful component of the conference was without a doubt the experiential learning site visits. We had the opportunity to visit a range of private sector companies, from consulting firms to investment funds. As someone who has long considered the private sector to be a force complacent in the fight for social justice and human rights, if not actively working against it, my interest in CSR in recent years has driven me to look at the industry not as something to fight against but something to work with and build on.

As a Chinese national with the majority of my secondary and higher education received in the U.S., I’ve been struggling with the possibility of going to law school in the U.S. for mainly two reasons. Firstly, I initially find the focus on domestic American laws in American law schools to be rather unhelpful for an aspiring international human rights lawyer. Secondly, I’ve been hesitant about the western-centric point of view the American legal education often takes on, especially regarding the international human rights regime. I feel as though the human rights regime was set up by the U.S., the U.K. and the Soviet Union with double standards and without implementation schemes so that the Jim Crow law in the U.S., colonialism in the U.K., and the gulag system in the Soviet Union would not be subject to opposition. The keynote, however, challenged these two beliefs by helping me see the interconnectedness of various legal systems both across national boundaries and within the U.S. context. Knowledge of domestic tort laws, for example, could aid in the prosecution of international crimes at times. The U.S. occupies such a prominent space in the international legal arena that such interdisciplinary knowledge is necessary.

 

Picture1

Delegates chat with Arvind Ganesan, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Buisness and Human Rights Division, and Amol Mehra, the director of International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.

Picture2

Amol Mehra from ICAR delivers his closing keynote.

Picture3

The delegates at the 2016 NUCHR annual conference in Evanston, IL.