In a rapidly changing and interconnected world, it is evident that traditional human rights approaches are becoming less effective in protecting the vulnerable. At the 2018 PILnet Global Forum in Berlin, panelists on the workshop, Private Sector for Public Good: Human Rights by Other Means, illustrated ways in which civil society can protect and promote the public interest other than through litigation by drawing on approaches traditionally used by the private sector for the public good.
Gearóid Ó Cuinn, from Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), shared some instances where GLAN used non-traditional methods to promote human rights. For example, GLAN recently made a formal complaint to the Irish government about oil firm San Leon Energy’s activities in Western Sahara. GLAN alleged that the oil firm failed to secure the consent of the Western Saharan people before drilling for oil on their land, thereby violating their human rights. The organization hopes to create a model for holding corporations responsible for the rights of the local populations. In another case, GLAN is supporting children who are asking the European Court of Human Rights to direct nations to enforce stronger emission-cutting policies and to stop mining fossil fuel reserves in the face of climate change.
Lise Smit, from British Institute for International and Comparative Law, emphasized the potential of corporate laws, such as laws related to fiduciary duties and piercing corporate veils, and human rights due diligence in advancing the public interest. In conducting human rights due diligence, she stressed that companies should measure the risks to rights holders, not simply to companies. The question of how to make human rights due diligence effective remains.
Lastly, Carolijn Terwindt, from European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), described her organization’s work around a lawsuit against KiK, a German clothing retail company, which was the main customer of a Pakistani factory that suffered from a lethal fire. She illustrated the value of its partnership with architects and artists in producing advocacy materials that showed that inadequate fire safety measures led to the deaths of the factory workers. In situations like these, ECCHR adopts the approach of legal intervention, which aims to use law in a broader sense, not simply through court cases.