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Opinion

Lawyers' insights on corporate legal accountability: Charity Ryerson, Corporate Accountability Lab

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

1. What are the biggest challenges you face in your corporate legal accountability work? 

While corporations have effectively used the global marketplace to make profit, the legal regimes that govern business activities have failed to evolve to create accountability for human rights violations in which they participate. We need a greater diversity of effective, efficient legal mechanisms if victims are to have meaningful access to remedy. 

2. What key opportunities do you see for promoting corporate legal accountability (at the national, regional or international levels)? 

Some domestic laws do effectively govern transnational corporate behavior, like intellectual property, contract and international trade law. Of course, these areas of law primarily protect other businesses, not workers, indigenous communities or small farmers. Our focus on international human rights law is not misplaced--we should constantly aspire to universal norms that protect the world's most vulnerable. But as we struggle to find laws with extraterritorial application and enforceability in domestic courts, we should look to how we can repurpose those commercial laws that have extraterritorial reach, but are not typically used for human rights protection.

3. What key lesson(s) have you learned in your efforts to advance corporate legal accountability?

Holding companies accountable is essentially a bottom up exercise--those most impacted by corporate behavior have a leading role in designing solutions and challenging "business as usual." At the same time, marginalized communities are systematically prevented from accessing key information that impacts them, from data on environmental and health impacts of an extractive project to the factors that go into pricing the commodities they grow on their farms. The co-creation of novel solutions to persistent human rights problems will require greater transparency and accessibility of data and a willingness to do the hard work of collaboration across language and cultural barriers.