On Friday, April 22, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law and the Bernstein Center for Human Rights hosted a discussion with Shareen Hertel, as part of the Human Rights in Practice Lunch Series, which addresses current issues in human rights practice on the basis of groundbreaking scholarship. Hertel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, jointly appointed with the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut. Hertel is also the co-founder of Research Program on Economic and Social Rights at the University of Connecticut, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to inform current scholarship and research on social and economic rights.
Hertel’s discussion addressed recent trends in business and human rights theory and practice as part of her upcoming book, in which she develops a genealogy of popular participation in economic rights policymaking. Her longtime experience as an advocate for social and economic rights and her scholarly work in the field of business and human rights, allowed Shareen to intuitively trace the social, economical and historical evolution of the norm of participation and various corresponding mechanisms for participation by drawing on a combination of secondary scholarly literature and primary sources from nongovernmental organizations and intergovernmental bodies, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.
Hertel identified three main phases in the evolution of stakeholder participation in economic rights policy: participation as damage control (circa 1980s), participation as testimonial (1990s), and participation as vehicle for entitlement (2000s). “At each juncture”, she argued, “specific new mechanisms emerge that both enlarge and simultaneously constrain the nature of stakeholder involvement in economic rights policymaking”. To illustrate this argument, Hertel presented cases in which grass-root actors in the United States and abroad have been disempowered since the 1980s in processes that were allegedly aimed at including them in the economic policy-making process.
In the discussion that followed, Hertel critically assessed the effectiveness of current multi-stakeholders consultations, contending that many of these initiatives, by design, treat communities as by-standers, and in some cases increase the likelihood of these groups becoming the victim of further abuse by corporate actors and unresponsive governments.