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Framing Business and Human Rights? A Deep Dive into a New Regulatory Proposal

Business and human rights (BHR), as an emerging field of modern law and legal research, is at an inflection point. On the one hand, its most prominent set of norms, the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), are widely accepted by leading institutions worldwide and recognised as having contributed to progress in this field. On the other hand, with a focus on remediating transnational corporate human rights abuses, governments and CSOs are currently drafting a treaty within an Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group (OEIGWG).

Confounding the dichotomy of hard and soft law approaches to BHR, the Biden Administration recently expressed openness to alternative routes in the field, explicitly mentioning “a legally binding framework agreement” that would build on the UNGPs. Framework agreements are a type of treaty, that establish key objectives and a system of governance, but leave details to be determined in the future by an agreed-on mechanism. Perceived by some as a distraction from existing efforts to create a binding treaty in the field, others regard the proposal for a framework agreement as offering a promising and realistic route.

In April 2022, Völkerrechtsblog and World Comparative Law (WCL) will host a blog Symposium as an opportunity for a curious examination of this new approach to regulating business in the field of human rights. This symposium aims to explore its potentials, challenges, benefits, and downsides. By inviting contributions from a variety of fields and backgrounds, the symposium hopes to open the debate to a wider public and enable States to make sound choices, informed by a broad range of perspectives.

We are particularly interested in contributions that explore one or more of the following:

  • Analysing the proposal: What would be the potentials, challenges, benefits, and downsides associated with a framework-style BHR agreement? Could a framework agreement have advantages over the treaty scheme envisaged by the current OEIGWG process? What are the pitfalls to avoid when drafting a framework-style BHR agreement? How would it have to be designed to contribute to protecting human rights most effectively?
  • Situating the proposal within exiting international law: What would be the relationship between the three parallel initiatives, the UNGPs, the treaty scheme proposal of the OEIGWG and a new framework agreement? Can they coexist in fruitful interaction? Or can they undermine each other? How does the framework agreement approach relate to broader discussions regarding the legitimacy and effectiveness of Multistakeholderism vs. Multilateralism? Are there lessons to be learned from existing framework agreements, such as the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1977 CoE Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities or the 2003 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control?
  • Confronting the proposal with critical international legal studies: Would any of these three parallel initiatives be particularly sensitive to existing interdependencies and entanglements between the “North” and “South” or “host” and “home” states? How could the rights and interests of vulnerable or marginalised groups be best taken into account in this field?

We invite you to send us your blogposts for a blog symposium to be published on Völkerrechtsblog. Selected contributions may also be developed into full articles for a special issue of the journal World Comparative Law (WCL).

Process and timeline for the online Symposium on Völkerrechtsblog:

  • Deadline for the submission of 100-words abstracts: 15 January
  • Selected authors will be notified by 1 February
  • Deadline for the submission of the selected Blogposts: 1 March
  • Form of blogposts: 1000-1500 words, see directions for authors.
  • Editorial process: double-blind review and editing by the editorial team
  • Publication: on Völkerrechtsblog in April

Process and timeline for the special issue of World Comparative Law (WCL):

  • Selected authors will be invited to develop their blogposts into journal articles for a special issue of World Comparative Law. Manuscripts of up to 10.000 words will be due on 1 July 2022.
  • After peer review, the selected articles will be published either in issue 03/22 or 04/22 of World Comparative Law.

Address for submission:

Organisation: Völkerrechtsblog and World Comparative Law
Deadline: 15/01/2022
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