Corporations, Human Rights, and The Environment

(message received via Anna Grear's DNHCR mailing list)

Te Piringa Faculty of Law, University of Waikato and the Global
Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE) are
delighted to invite you to attend a one day round-table discussion

Professor Sally Wheeler, Queens University, Belfast on ‘Corporations, Human Rights and the Environment’. The round-table is to be held on 17th October 2012, in B Block, Room 1.20(‘The Council Room’), 9:00am - 4:00pm, at the University of Waikato, New Zealand.

The day will be built around a paper by Professor Wheeler and allow
extensive time for genuine engagement on the themes raised by the
paper and the discussion itself.  This is an exciting opportunity to
engage with other scholars on a centrally important contemporary
theme. Refreshments and lunch are provided.  Book early to avoid
disappointment by contacting

ABSTRACT of Professor Wheeler’s paper:

This paper will address the role of the corporate sector and the
financial markets in privatising public concerns through the strategic
use of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and
philanthro-capitalism. At worst, such strategies attempt to avoid
scrutiny of, inter alia, labour and environmental practices. At best,
they represent attempts to improve corporate public image in the eyes
of the consumer/the state and other stakeholders.

A sophisticated privatised network of reporting, quality marking and
audit has been created to enable corporations to present a public face
that airbrushes away much of what the financial markets term ESG
(‘Environmental, Social and Governance’) concerns. Financial markets
favour a particular model of CSR practice and the paper examine how
corporations, particularly those with a strong regional as opposed to
a strong global presence, respond to this. ESG risks concern risks to
the business model in terms of sustainability and reputation. Taking
such risks seriously is not necessarily about a genuine desire to
remodel business practice. By privatising these practices the
corporate sector is able to tell a particular story about itself and
use CSR and philanthro-capitalism to promote current popular

A large democratic deficit is created when certain interventions are
made by the corporate sector rather than by elected governments.
Distribution of the proceeds of philanthro -capitalism ignores need in
favour of image, and while States distribute resources, they at least
do so in the face of the accountability measures offered by democratic
political structures. Individual states, however, are not always in a
position to determine and then to deliver their own domestic social
policy without the assistance of foreign direct investment. The needs
and priorities of the providers of foreign direct investment may well
not be the same as those of individual states.

In addition to avoiding scrutiny, the corporate packaging of risks and
risk mitigation avoids potentially uncomfortable but very important
conversations about conflicting goals within a global capitalist
society dominated by corporations that operate outside national
political boundaries.


Sally Wheeler completed her under-graduate and post-graduate education
at the University of Oxford, 1982-88. After holding lectureships in
several institutions she was appointed to a Chair in the Law Faculty
at the University of Leeds in 1994. In 2001, she took up a Chair at
Birkbeck College, University of London. In April 2004, she joined the
Law School at Queen's University, Belfast as Chair of Law, Business
and Society. She is currently the Chair of the UK Socio-legal Studies
Association (and was previously Chair from 1995-2000). She was a
member of the 2001 UK Research Assessment Exercise panel for Law.

Professor Wheeler’s research specialisms lie in Socio-Legal Studies in
the area of Company Law, Corporate Governance, Contract Law and Legal

Selected Relevant Publications

Corporations and the Third Way (2002) Hart Publishing, Oxford

“Climate Change, Hans Jonas and indirect investors” (2012) 3/1 Journal
of Human Rights and the Environment 92

“An Ethical Frame for Corporate Behaviour” in Macmillan (ed) Essays in
International Corporate Law, Vol 11 (2002, Hart Publishing, Oxford )

“An Alternative Voice In and Around Corporate Governance” (2002) 25
University of New South Wales Law Journal 556

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