Reflecting on my Year of Blogging

When I started my third year Human Rights and Business module, I initially chose it as a compliment to my Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) module. Over the course of my degree, I have become increasingly aware of the downfalls of our western capitalist society and the need for CSR, in terms of the ethical damage caused by businesses. However, this awareness was only surface level. It wasn’t until this year that I really started to immerse myself in the depths in which human rights are violated by businesses, and the difficulties from a law perspective of remedying these abuses.

Although I would consider myself as somebody who takes an interest in current affairs, it became increasingly apparent through this module that I am not as aware of human rights abuses as I once thought. I knew that certain big brands would use sweatshops, and people seemed to view extractive industries negatively. Nonetheless, the Human Rights and Business module has shown me how limited my awareness truly was. I generally take a Kantian view of ethics, where I believe that everyone has a sense of duty to do the right thing in a given situation. I have continuously been shocked to learn about the sheer scope of the human rights violations committed by businesses and am amazed at how my view is not the norm. Human rights abuses occur most notably of course, within companies that operate trans-nationally. This difficulty was first bought to my attention through the Talisman case study. (Macklin, A and Simons, P, 2014) The idea that businesses will take advantage of weak states in order to keep business costs down shocks me to my core. There is a sort of detachment between the western world and the developing world, it’s incredibly easy not to have to think about where your clothes, food, or smartphone is sourced from. I touched upon this divide very briefly in my blog post entitled ‘The Global South.’ It’s only when you really start to research for yourself that you discover that there is hardly any area of your western life that is not tainted by a human rights violation of some description.

Learning about human rights abuses committed by businesses has been one shocking aspect of this module, however learning the reasons why businesses can continuously get away with these violations has been the most interesting aspect. Before this year I wasn’t aware of governance gaps, and how a business can operate as separate companies depending on what country they are based in. Many big businesses will use this to their advantage by operating at least part of their organisation within states with no or turbulent legal systems. They do so with the knowledge that they can operate unethically within this state in order to maximise profits, without repercussions. This has caused me to become sceptical of the ethics of any business, which although is sad, now feels entirely necessary. Naively, I once believed that certain companies value their impact on society in a higher regard than pursuing profits. From my research, it seems as though this is a rarity.

One of the main things that has remained in my mind is that from a law perspective, only states can be responsible for human rights abuses, even if it was a business that conducted the harm. This made sense to me at first, but in my very first blog post entitled ‘Modern Day Slavery’ I discovered that even if something is legally binding, states can still fail to enforce them. In this post I considered how section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has been in force for over two years, but the UK government is still failing to take action against companies that do not meet the standards of this law. (Whitehead, F and Kelly A, 2017) The law itself is vague and doesn’t set out clear guidelines for companies to follow, which can be said for a lot of human rights related law.

I have learnt that the main issue with seeking justice for human rights abuses is that transnational law is incredibly weak. In terms of human rights instruments, many of them are unenforceable legally. The reason for this being that attaining an agreement from every country on what consists of a human rights violation is incredibly difficult. Therefore, majority of human rights instruments are created as ‘norms’ or ‘recommendations’ which are not legally binding. They use suggestive language in their terms such as ‘should’ instead of the firm language found in other legal documents such as ‘must.’ These instruments then become aspirational, rather than compulsory. Causing the ability for states to ignore these good practices.

The only aspect of what I have learnt this year that brings me hope for the future is that the general public are becoming increasingly aware of CSR issues; ‘more than half of consumers agree that people should boycott companies that act unethically.’ (Mintel, 2015) However, if they are anything like myself, they probably think that they are more aware of unethical business practices than they actually are. None the less, consumer awareness is the first step to businesses taking CSR seriously. If a corporation’s profits are at risk of damage due consumer awareness of unethical business practices, this will be a major motivation to reassess their operations.

In terms of how this module has allowed me to mature as a person, I’ve become increasingly aware to not take the propaganda fed to me by corporations at face value. As I have discovered through my blog, businesses will often only give you the side of their operations that they want you to see, rather than be transparent in their operations. As a business student, I’ve also had more of an insight into the world of law, which I enjoy thoroughly and would consider perusing in the future. I’ve also enjoyed the act of keeping a blog, and have improved upon my research and writing skills as a result. The blog has also forced me to keep to deadlines, due to the fact I have been writing new posts weekly.

As a result of taking this module, I have realised how much I want to take on a career that aims to make a difference ethically. The world of business is vital to our capitalist society, and I am glad to have a rounded insight as to how this world operates through my degree. However, the pain and destruction that is caused as a result of business practise is not something I necessarily want to participate in. I am now hoping to peruse a career with ethical implications, hopefully within the human rights sector. This may be for a charity or a non-governmental organisation, or even working within a business to improve CSR within the organisation. In order to progress in this sector, I am aiming to take on a human rights based master’s course within the new few years, in order to continue to grow my knowledge around the subject.


Macklin, A. and Simons, P. 2014, The Governance Gap: Extractive Industries, Human Rights, and the Home State Advantage, Routledge.

Mintel (2015) The Ethical Consumer – UK [online]. Available from: [Accessed: 12/04/2018]

Whitehead, F. and Kelly, A. (2017) ‘Path to illegal behaviour’: UK accused of failing to press home anti-slavery law ‘, The Guardian, 4 October. Available at: (Accessed 24 April 2018).

The World Bank

At the begining of the year, I watched a TED talk (above) from Jim Yong Kim – current president of the World Bank. The talk was really nice, he spoke about how he used to be incredibly critical of the World Bank, so much so that he and his collegues wrote a book on how the World Bank is too economically driven. Then low and behold, president Obama put forward Yong Kim to be president of the World Bank himself. He spoke about some of the great work they have done since he’s been president. One of the cool things that stood out to me was a company called Zipline using drones to deliver blood in Rwanda. I remember watching the talk for the first time and coming home to my boyfriend and telling him about it. He is a politics student and I remember him being a bit unimpressed. This really threw me off as from the limited things I knew about the World Bank, it seemed like a great organisation.

I didn’t really give much more thought to this until I started searching for a topic for this week on the Human Rights and Business Resource Centre. I noticed a trend of articles on there which are criticizing World Bank activities, so I wanted to investigate a bit further.

What is the World Bank?

The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to countries for various projects to help better that nation. Their main aim as an organisation is to end poverty.

What have been the criticisms of the World Bank?

The main criticisms of the World Bank often seem to involve the rights of indegenous people. It seems that many of the ‘good’ projects that the World Bank have funded, such as putting a dam into a river for example, have caused the deaths or destruction of the homes of people indigenous to that area. I touched upon this problem in a previous post entitled ‘The Global South.’ If you’d like to read more on this then the link to the post is here.

Another criticism of the World Bank is that although it is a global organisation, it is only governed by a small number of economically strong countries. Therefore the interests of these specific countries often dominate the Bank. The author Naomi Klein holds the opinion that the loans and aid provided by the World Bank come with unnessecery strings that only serve to benefit the WB’s interests. I found a Guardian article she wrote on the topic back in 2007, you can take a look at it here.

Although I’ve only had a brief look through criticisms of the World Bank, a lot of them are retrospective. I am impressed with Jim Yong Kim’s efforts to criticise and then eventually become leader of the organisation he once scorned. That surely shows that he at the very least has good intentions. No organisation is every going to be perfect, and for the most part it seems as though they are doing good? But at the same time I remain sceptical. His TED talk could just be very good marketing for himself and the World Bank. The main criticism that is stuck in my mind is that the loans come with unneccesary strings that benefit the WB. I did find on Twitter a picture that somebody had made, defacing some kind of promotion for a conference that involves Jim Yong Kim. I struggled to find exactly who made it and why, but it gives a clue to some people’s issues with events like this:

I remain sceptical and will make a concious effort to keep an eye on the activities of the World Bank, it’s a really interesting organisation as it’s quite unique in terms of how it operates.

Unpaid Internships

This post is a little self indulgent, but still relevent, I hope. I was browsing through the Guardian long reads when I came across this article. As these articles are of course by nature long, I’ll summarise quickly.

The article is about how the writer gave up his dream internship because he realised that he was being taken advantage of by being paid so little. He mentions how businesses use unpaid interns to save on costs, while giving the intern some valuable experience and contacts within their chosen field. The only thing is, is that most people can’t afford to go unpaid for six months at a time, and the writer argues how these kinds of opportunities are only availible to people who are more financially stable. For example; people who still live with their parents or people with high earning partners who can support them both. The every day person who has to support themselves (like myself), no matter how great and beneficial the opportunity can’t justify not making money. Like a lot of issues in this country, the best opportunities only seem availible to the elite.

I really feel as though being unpaid for valuable work undermines human rights, but I wanted to research online first to see what other people think. I found this page about an event entitled ‘How unpaid internships undermine human rights’ that was co-organized by the Fair Internship Initiative (FII), Public Services International and the “We Pay Our Interns” coalition representatives. In the page there was a reference to article 23 of the UDHR:

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

I have highlighted in bold the sections of article 23 that I believe unpaid internships violate. If everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work then internships (which from talking to my friends, can be incredibly hard work) then all internships should be paid at least the minimum wage. (Preferably the living wage!) Also, the original article is all about how the writer felt taken advantage of. Surely then this unpaid internship did not ensure him an existance worthy of human dignity?

While I was researching I also found this interesting article about how the human rights sector themselves often exploit young people with unpaid internships. I’ve been looking for internships myself in similar sectors and I can account for this. Somewhat hypocritical of these organisations, don’t you think?

Environmental Focus

I noticed that although I have covered many human rights and business issues over the course of my blog, one topic I have shyed away from is the enviroment as a human rights issue. I decided to do a bit of research and focus on this topic as a whole.

Through my research I found this webpage from the UN. In the legal overview section they state the following:

‘The environment as a pre-requisite for the enjoyment of human rights (implying that human rights obligations of States should include the duty to ensure the level of environmental protection necessary to allow the full exercise of protected rights)’

In other words, if states allow the environment to deplete, then this is a direct infringement of everyone’s human rights. As the state of our environment worsens, so does the health and lives of everybody on this planet. Even things such as food production could become difficult as temperatures rise, and with a growing population something needs to be done to combat this. I totally understand this perspective, although I would never have thought of the environment as a human rights issue before I started this module, but now it makes complete sense.

In terms of relating this issue back to business, many big businesses can be the worst offenders for environmental impact on the planet. I found this list of the worst offending companies in the world. Unsuprisingly, majority of the worst offenders are energy companies. Extractative industries can wreak havoc on the planet, especially as our access to fossil fuels gets less and less.

It’s down to states to find ways to decrease our consumption of fossil fuels and agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement are very encouraging and promising. However, it was incredibly worrying when one of the largest states in the world, the U.S failed to agree to the climate accord. 

What makes this even more worrying is that the U.S is supposedly one of the worst offending countries on the planet for their impact on the environment.


Cambridge Analytica

I am so excited to be writing this post, as a recent news story has come about that develops upon my blog post from November, ‘The Right to Privacy.’

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed from the title of this post, I will be talking about the recent Facebook data breach by company Cambridge Analytica. A really great round-up of what we know so far has been written by the New York Times and can be found here. To sum up briefly what has happened, however, the data breach occurred when users of a Facebook app had their profile information, and the profile information of their friends collected by a company known as Cambridge Analytica. This company were hired by Trump’s PR team and the information collected on users was then used to identify the personalities of U.S voters and subsequently influence them.

My dad always warned me to be careful and wary of the things I do on the internet and he (like he usually is) is so right. What does this mean for our right to privacy? Yes, we may have given our profile information to Facebook, but users of that app did not sign up for their information to be sold on to a company that could subsequently influence them.

In my right to privacy blog post I asked the question: ‘If states could use algorithms to determine what kind of voter someone was, surely they could then target ads to that person to maybe sway their view?’ Now I know the state hasn’t directly used an algorithm to influence voters, but this may be part of the reason why Trump was elected president seeing as Cambridge Analytica had involvement with Trump’s presidential race to office.

This kind of news story leads me to wonder if we really do have freedom of choice, or if all of our choices are always influenced in some way by the media. I’ve always thought at the back of my mind that we are all probably influenced more than we realise, but kind of put that attitude down to the conspiracy theorist side of my personality and decided to ignore it somewhat. This story is surely a wake-up call, for general internet users, in terms of how much of our personal data we give away. But more importantly, this is a wake up call for states to impose tighter online data protection laws.

Can we trust any of the websites we use to protect our personal information?

The Glass Ceiling

Following International Women’s day on the 8th of March, this week I wanted to discuss an ongoing battle between women and businesses.  An article entitled ‘Top-paid men outstrip women by 4 to 1, shock figures reveal’ which was published in The Guardian caught my eye. You can find the full article here.

This article notes how new data released by HMRC shows that there is still a huge disparity between the pay of male and female workers here in the UK. I find it amazing that this is still an issue. I would imagine if the original suffagettes could see us today, they would wonder what is taking us so long.

This data has been released just before large companies within the UK are required to publish their payrolls by gender. I’m not sure how much of a difference this will make to break the glass ceiling but it’s a step in the right direction.

As I discovered through research for my dissertation, and as previously mentioned in my first ever post for this site, ‘The Modern Slavery Act’ was put into UK law in 2015. This law states that companies must show transparency of their supply chains within their annual report. It was created as a way to highlight and hopefully put in motion an attempt to end modern day slavery. Despite this law being active, many companies have failed to adhear to it with no reprecussions. With this knowledge, I can’t say I have much faith in all companies complying to this new gendered payroll requitement. If the modern slavery act is anything to go by, there won’t be any consequences for not complying by the UK government.

I attended a talk at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative arts on the 28th of February entitled ‘Representing the People?’ The panel was made up of a number of women who have found success in their chosen career path. From director of the Tate; Maria Balshaw, to Catherine Mayer, author and co-founder of the Women’s equality party. The panel spoke a bit about their journeys to where they are now, along with their thoughts on the current state of equality.

The general consensus was that we are in ‘a period of extreme turbulance.’ And although the women discussed how they fear there may be backlash, they were hopeful that we may be in the middle of a feminist revolution.

An idea that was discussed during the talk was that gender inequality isn’t going to be solved solely by legislation that enforces ‘quotas.’ Or in other words, the idea that companies should be made to employ a certain amount of women. This is simply a fast track way to implement change, rather than really dealing with the issue. This idea is summed up well in the Guardian article on the pay gap:

“There are a number of factors – including better management of women, appropriate senior role models, and breaking down the gender bias – which need to be implemented,” – Brenda Trenowden, chair of the 30% Club, a group which campaigns for more women on company boards.

The Dark Secrets Behind the 2022 World Cup Stadium

This week, a story on the BBC website entitled ‘Worker died in fall at ‘lethal’ Qatar World Cup Stadium’ caught my attention. The story originally caught my eye as I noticed it in the Sussex local news section of the site. Unfortunately the vicitim of the incident was local to nearby Hove.

The story was about how Zachary Cox, a migrant working on the new world cup stadium in Qatar, fell to his death. The accident occured after Mr Cox was given a faulty hoist, which broke while he was working. The coronor announced that his management would have or should have known that the equiptment he was given would be risking his life. This means that this is a blatant human rights violation, obviously violating article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

The part of this story which makes me curious is who would be decided at fault here by law. Obviously, despite this being a failure of a business, only states can commit human rights violations. So would this be the fault of the Qatarian state, the state in which this terrible event happened? Or would it be the fault of the South African government, as he was working for a South African subcontractor? Or would it be the fault of the German government, seeing as the subcontractor was working for a German firm? This is such an internationally interlaced issue, I am intrigued to discover what the outcome of this tragic accident is. Who will be prosecuted?

I realised through reading about this story that I have been somewhat aware of this sort of tragic accident being fairly common place in states such as Qatar. I vaguely remember hearing in the past of horrendous working conditions and workers dying while building being fairly common place. I’ve always wondered why anyone would travel to Qatar to work there, if working conditions are known to be so dangerous. I ended up finding this article from 2015.

Something I am shocked to learn is the need for an exit visa to leave Qatar. I can’t comprehend how it’s legal to be forced to stay in a country, one that you are not a resident of, until the Qatarian governement deem it time for you to leave. Secondly, the amount of deaths, although I’m sure have grown massively in the three years since this article was published, is outrageous. The more I delve into human rights issues, the more I am shocked that these things aren’t reported on more often. There is so much injustice in the world today, and until we come together to work on issues concerning governance gaps, the problems are just going to grow and continue.


My Trip to Den Haag & Visiting the ICC

Last week I was lucky enough to travel to The Hauge to visit a friend. While I was there I was extremely insistent that we would go and visit the International Criminal Court as it’s based there. I had researched online beforehand and learnt that you can actually go and sit in on trials, so I was extremely hopeful that this would be possible.

When we got there, the court was on a break so we decided to go on an audio tour and learn a little bit more about what the International Criminal Court actually does. The aim of the ICC is to give victims of mass crimes, who live in countries with very weak or no legal systems a course to justice. This sparked my interest as a huge focus in class is the idea of governance gaps and the difficulties of gaining justice for victims of weaker states. The ICC is based on a treaty known as the Rome Statute, which has been ratified by many states around the world. The treaty came into effect in July 2002, therefore creating the ICC. It was interesting to learn that although the ICC cooperates with the United Nations, it still remains independent of it. Unlike the human rights violations we have been studying, which can only be committed by states, the ICC tries individuals for crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Something I found both interesting but also frustrating is that as the ICC was established in 2002, they cannot persecute retrospectively and therefore the accused cannot be tried for crimes committed before then. Something I have been learning throughout this module is that human rights-based law can be quite disheartening, as justice can be incredibly difficult to achieve. However, this is one of the reasons I’m finding human rights law so very interesting.

After the audio tour, it was time to go sit in on the gallery and watch the trial. It was amazing that they allow members of the public to do this, especially as UK courts are so incredibly private. The person who was on trial that day was Dominic Ongwen, a former senior rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army. This may be familiar to some, as Dominic Ongwen would have served the infamous viral internet figure, Joseph Kony.

Watching the trial was so interesting, although not a lot really happened in the two hours I was watching for, just to get an idea of how a court of this nature operates was so enlightening. All of the patrons of the court spoke English, however as witnesses spoke other languages, we had to wear headphones and listen to a live translation that was happening in a separate gallery to us. On the day that I was watching the trial, it was the prosecution presenting the case. The questions asked by barristers were so incredibly in depth, you can really see why trials as serious as this can take such a long time.

Although I’m aware this post has next to nothing to do with the business side of my module, I couldn’t resist writing a post on my experience. It’s not every day you get to sit in on a real human rights trial. Despite this, I can still draw comparisons to the aspects of international law that we have been learning about in class. I would love to go back someday and sit on future trials, it was an amazing experience which I won’t forget.

Brook House

This week, a friend told me about a BBC Panorama documentry entitled ‘Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets.’ You can find the link to the episode here, or a nice summary of the documentry has been produced by BBC news here.

The documentry was about an immigration detention centre called ‘Brook House’ in west Sussex. The centre is run by controversial security company G4S, who have been selected to handle the centre by the home office.

The documentry followed Callum Tulley, an employee of the centre, who had become an undercover reporter for the BBC after witnessing the terrible realities of Brook House. The detention centre was being used to lock up detainees for years, without knowledge of when they would be released, or deported. People who were simply in this country illegally were being kept in the same place as serious criminals and the results are dangerous. Callum witnessed suicide attempts, abusive staff and a failing system.

You can’t lock people up, not tell them when they are going to be released, keep them in the same location as dangerous ex prisoners and expect their mental health to stay in tact. You also can’t expect staff to react well and be able to cope with the actions of detainees who are not behaving in a normal manner. From what I saw of the documentry, it did not seem that staff were correctly trained or monitored, in how to deal correctly with the detainees.

Obviously from a moral perpsective, the abusive staff are at fault here. But so are G4S for allowing this behaviour to continue. From a moral and legal perspective, the home office are obviously the ones who must take responsibility for this. How can they employ a company such as G4S, who have a huge list of contraversial behaviour in their past, to look after these people. In the documentary these inmates are treated worse than animals at times. They are seen as inhuman by staff. The way they are treated breaches almost every article within the universal declaration. There was one section of the documentry where one of the security guards forcefully presses his fingers into the neck of one of the inmates, almost choking him. It could be argued that that one act alone breaks article 1, 2, 3 & 5 in that one simple act.

The documentry was filmed back in september, so I did some research on the Business and Human Rights resource centre to see what has happened as a result of the documetary. I found this article.

Thankfully, legal action has launched against the UK government, and it has been recognised that they take responsibility for the actions taken place in Brook House. Even though the abuse was commited by individuals working for G4S, these actions were just a symptom of the wider issues with the current system in place.

HIV Discrimination

I have been recently thinking that I focus too much overall on human rights problems within the UK, and needed to branch out. Therefore, this week I found this article about how workers within the Philippines are being discriminated against because of their HIV status. This means they are being fired because of it, or aren’t even being hired in the first place.

HIV discrimination is something that still happens all over the world, but has been destigmatised greatly in the UK over the past 30 years or so. It’s such a shame that in the Philippines this still happens regularly.

I am aware that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights covers issues to do with workers rights. This kind of discrimination would be breaking part one of article 6 of this covenant:

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.

I did a quite google search to see if the Philippines have signed this covenant and they have. They are obviously breaching this by not doing more to protect a human’s right to work.

Although I understand someone with deteriating health may not be an ideal candidate for a job, but here in the UK HIV is no longer a death sentance. Part of the battle to get better medication and cures for conditions is to drop the stigma surrounding them. I do hope that the Philippines takes appropriate action to combat this epidemic.