Corporate responsibility is human rights

Human Rights Broadsheet 4

29th January 2008

Corporate Responsibility is Human Rights – making the human link

This seminar drew together the strands of the first three seminars held in October, November and December 2007. Hilary Hunt, Visiting Fellow at the Kingston University Business School, summarised the first seminars. Seminar 1 covered sustainable communities, and the relationships between them, business and government. Seminar 2 was about the rights and well being of children, and seminar 3 explored the role of human rights education for world citizenship.

Dr Helen Johnson of Kingston University School of Education led the lively discussion, commenting that we had been analytical rather than descriptive in our approach. The participants included students from the Law School and representatives of the student’s union and CEWC. Many were from the Penrhyn Road campus (the seminar took place at Kingston Hill). One of the participants had been drawn to study law because of human rights. Another was an alumnus who worked in the corporate responsibility field.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 had an increasing momentum for good as time passed. It is not an imposition of Western values, but has been agreed by all nations. Justice is not a Western idea – the Hammurabi Code, over 3700 years old, was cited. It was noted that violence has lasting effects, e.g. Edward the First’s brutal conquest of Wales and invasion of Scotland around 1300 AD had an influence on the current relationships between British nations.

Businesses tend to want to project an image of compliance rather than implementing rights. Government often does what business wants, and neither do what the citizen wants. But what is the motivation for change while the rights of shareholders take precedence? Companies do have to obey corporate law. The state tries to decide everything for its citizens. Human rights should be a protection for the citizen against oppressive and controlling governments. Should responsibilities be given back to the citizen?

Students are not apathetic, neither are citizens, but they need to feel they will have influence or it is not worth the effort of being involved. Students have time to talk and are passionate about issues, and many of them participate in volunteering. But when students start work they leave these values behind. Why is this?

The UK and USA regard human rights as an imposition. Many countries are distanced from us because of our violations of international law (the next seminar is “The Enforcement of International Human Rights Law: the Challenges Ahead”. It is on 25th February 2008, 1600 to 1800h, Room 6032, Frank Lampl Building, Kingston Hill Campus and will be led by Paresh Kathrani of Kingston University Law School and Prof Richard Ennals of Kingston Business School).

Organisations should imbed human rights values. The education of professionals at Kingston (business, law, teaching etc,) should ensure that those professionals will act more in line with human rights than at present. Everyone has a role to play in society – engineers, businessmen and so on have an important role, they should be made aware by spreading the word about human rights and publicising events. We are all responsible and we all have rights.

All the participants had heard about the Convention on the Rights of the Child but only young people from other countries had learned about it through childhood education. In Sierra Leone it was a standard part of education. Others had learnt from parents involved in UNICEF or who had been aware of human rights violations in Chile. Another had learnt it when studying law in Russia. UK students had learnt about it from friends or through choosing to study human rights.

The university chaplain Stan Brown is collating a document for Bill Rammell the government minister – students should contribute. The government seems not to know how to address the social conflicts in the UK. Locking people up for 42 days without charge is not the way forward. There should be a voice for children in the UK as there is in Sierra Leone.

Privacy rights are violated in the USA. The prevalence of CCTV adds to the climate of fear in the UK. Announcements on trains such as “please keep your luggage in sight – there is a potential threat” do not help. Tee shirts such as “don’t freak I’m a Sikh” use humour in an attempt to overcome fear. The government talks about tolerance, but this is not the same as acceptance. Being pragmatic, tolerance is a start; people have feelings towards different communities which take time to work through. KU is much more diverse now. Over a hundred languages are spoken.

While religions hold that they know the revealed truth, it takes tolerance to interact in the community. The Islamic and Jewish societies issued a joint statement last year. KU has put measures in place to educate its community to be more tolerant; there generally seems to be good communication between students of different cultures and beliefs. One exception is the conflict between the Turkish and Greek societies.

The curriculum has been over specified – there is not enough space left for education to take place. Students have an opportunity to knock on open doors. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be part of students’ induction, and should be the backcloth against which all our work is conducted. If the Students Union endorses it then funds can be found.

One should be self critical and realise where we are having a negative impact. Despite the Race Relations Act there is still institutional racism. Can KU look at itself? Things bubble up that are not spoken of and stop realisation of full potential. We are all learning. Integration and learning from each other rather than coexisting requires self examination.

Helen asked “What will this group do? What will get you to come to the next seminar? Participants said that communications and leaflets are needed. Facebook groups should be set up (Facebook is OK but CCTV is not?!). We should focus on what people need to aware of in respect of their own rights. We can ask people what their role as a citizen of the world is by being e.g. an engineer. We need to understand why human rights affects us, and how will our future need to reflect the human rights agenda. Human rights should be introduced into the curriculum and be part of personal development plans. UN days should be celebrated. We should wear the tee shirt.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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