Michael H. Posner teaches ethics and finance at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Speaking to Srijana Mitra Das, he discussed why businesses should pay attention to human rights:

Q. What is the core of your research?

A. I started the Center for Business and Human Rights at the NY U Business School a few years ago. Our focus is on how global companies operate in the world and what human rights challenges are linked to their activities. Many of these research global supply chains in manufacturing, farming, mining, etc., and the risks they pose to vulnerable people such as workers. We also study how major technology companies operate in terms of privacy, free expression, disinformation and harmful content and how the investment community influences all of this.

Q. Apart from Geopolitics, what is the significance of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed by the US Congress?
A. The situation in Xinjiang, China, has deteriorated dramatically — by many accounts, more than a million people have been detained, with large-scale forced labor, especially in agricultural production. This law, which came into force in June, assumes that any product produced in Xinjiang province or including raw materials from there is the result of forced labor – the assumption is that such things should not be allowed by the States United States.

Q. What are the possible effects of this law on various industrial sectors?

A. About 80% of the cotton produced in China comes from Xinjiang province. The polysilicon used in solar panels also comes largely from Xinjiang — and most of the solar panels that come to the US come from China. Therefore, the apparel, textile, solar panel and electronics industries are the most affected by this law. The question now is, how to implement it and what to do especially with regard to solar panels that are so necessary in the global effort to reduce carbon – if you don’t have an alternative source of production, what do you do in the short term term? These are challenges for industry and government. This law was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the US Congress however, by 406 votes to three – now, its practicalities need to be resolved.

Q. Do businesses have a deeper responsibility to support human rights and, if so, why?

A. I think they certainly do. Consider the origins of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 — all these discussions are about the responsibility of the government. The assumption is, if governments follow human rights, that will solve the challenge. We now know that many governments are unwilling or unable to protect their own people – there is a ‘governance gap’ in ensuring that individuals are protected. Along with this, we have large companies around the world trying to make money by operating where labor is cheaper and regulations are less strict. But companies shouldn’t outsource responsibility for how they make money – and governments are starting to legislate about it. European governments have adopted mandatory due diligence laws, which tell companies operating around the world that they have responsibility for human rights, social and labor issues. We are currently in the process of creating some rules of the road on how companies should operate in these areas. We need to develop industry standards to assess corporate behavior, so that companies are encouraged and forced to do the right thing.


Q. Do some companies voluntarily avoid forced or child labor in global supply chains?

A. I am the head of the Fair Labor Association which includes about 60 clothing and footwear companies and many agricultural businesses. It is 20 years old and includes Adidas, Nike, Hugo Boss, Patagonia, , and others. These companies agree to follow a set of nine labor standards, on child labor, working hours, workplace safety, forced labor, etc., and are evaluated every three years for compliance. This is an example of companies joining together voluntarily to work towards greater accountability, governed by a board made up of NGOs, universities, civil society groups, etc. they can be evaluated.

Q. Can fair labor practices help consumers?

A. The consumer is very important here — but companies have also become very good at showing how well they’re doing, even when they’re not. We lack independent data for consumers to make truly informed decisions. However, many consumers around the world want to do the right thing and evaluate brands in that light – but there is a lot of confusion in this space, which is also driven by companies spending on marketing, showing that they are green , that they treat the workers well, and so on. We need more publicly available data that allows consumers to evaluate these claims and reward companies that live up to their trust. Once such standards are unified, companies will pay more attention to these issues because their ability to succeed in the market will be affected by consumers making purchasing decisions based on their performance on environmental metrics. and social. The views expressed are personal

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