The Law and Political Economy of Business and Human Rights.

A Turn to Root Causes?
Law & Business

Erasmus School of Law Rotterdam & University of Groningen

10-11 November 2022

Organizers: Dr Ioannis Kampourakis (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Dr Lottie Lane (University of Groningen)

Business and Human Rights (BHR) scholarship has played a crucial role in identifying private power as a key concern for the human rights project. Marking a shift from the late-twentieth-century discourse that targeted state authorities as the source of human rights violations, BHR has been attentive not only to how the exercise of private power has assumed characteristics of functional sovereignty in an era of globalisation but also to how states form the necessary context for the enjoyment of rights. As such, the normative spearheads of the BHR project have typically been calls for extending the rule of law to private actors, establishing functional regimes of corporate accountability, and guaranteeing remedies for victims of violations.

Recent Law and Political Economy (LPE) scholarship has also been attentive to the rise of private power, focusing especially on its legal underpinnings. The private power that places private actors – particularly transnational corporations – in the position to significantly contribute to and cause human rights violations is not an accidental feature of the global economy. Rather, it flows from the legal infrastructure of the global economy – an infrastructure that consists of both international and national law. For instance, one need only think about how private law rules of property rights and contractual freedom, regimes of incorporation, the protection of intellectual property rights, the liberalisation of trade, the under-regulation of labour, or the protection of foreign investment through investment treaties have been crucial in transnationalising corporate activity and establishing global value chains.

A question that emerges is whether human rights violations within such regimes of global production may be understood as contingent or as structural features of the form of production itself. From a LPE perspective, calls for corporate accountability are likely insufficient, insofar as they only extend to the application of legality to address specific instances of misconduct. This is because it is precisely legality – and not illegality or ‘lawlessness’ – that fundamentally grounds the forms of exploitation and structural inequality that shape our political economy. For example, is it sufficient to focus on cases of conspicuous human rights violations at the base of supply chains (e.g., forced labour) when legal and contractually permissible price pressure exerted by lead firms is bound to lead to exploitative work practices by suppliers? Is the call for platform accountability in specific instances of misconduct sufficient when platforms may legally monetize users’ data that remains unowned in intellectual property terms?

Such questions motivate our suggested turn to root causes, addressing why abuses occur in the first place, what the role of law is in generating the causes for such violations, and how could the law function as a vehicle for social transformation and as a potential tool in overcoming them.  

This workshop seeks to bring together the discourses of LPE and BHR, in the belief that cross-fertilization would be a welcome development, while methodological insights of LPE may contribute to the normative agenda of BHR. As such, we are interested in contributions that attempt to bring the two discourses together to pave new paths of critique, or to contribute to the conceptualisation of a new social contract for economic activity.

The workshop will take place over the course of two days at Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam. The costs of invited participants will be partly covered. Yet, the workshop will take place in a hybrid mode, which means that online attendance will also be possible.

Submission of abstracts

We invite abstract submissions from both established and early-career researchers, including PhD students. Submitted abstracts should be no more than 500 words and should be accompanied by a short author biography. Please also indicate whether you prefer and expect to participate in person or online.

Please send your submissions to by Friday 17 June 2022. A decision on acceptance of the abstract will be communicated by 30 June 2022. 

Expected output

To facilitate discussion, authors of accepted abstracts are expected to submit an extended abstract of a maximum of 3,000 words by 14 October 2022. Following the workshop, we will pursue the publication of a Special Issue in an international law journal. More information on this topic will be communicated to participants in due course.

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