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The Role of Law in Corporate Human Rights Due Diligence

The Role of Law in Corporate Human Rights Due Diligence

This series of articles is drawn from Angie Redecopp’s PhD work, completed through the University of Salford in Manchester, United Kingdom. The thesis was completed in December 2021 and defended in February 2022. This study sought to explain how laws (interpreted very broadly) influence human rights due diligence (HRDD) in Canadian multinational companies (MNCs). We looked at how law influences HRDD practice, looking not just at initial commitments but also at the organizational integration of HRDD. Second, we considered the context of the various tensions we see in human rights compliance, many connected to voluntariness, and how this interacts with laws. Finally, we looked from the perspective of the entire global value chain, including all operations and all suppliers, up to the original source of all goods and services.

The research was completed by carrying out case studies on six Canadian MNCs, three in the mining sector and three in the retail sector. Interviews were carried out and documents were reviewed for each MNC. Data was thematically analyzed, and themes centred on the influence of the laws and the external stakeholders on the MNCs’ HRDD, as well as the internalization of HRDD in the MNCs. Several types of laws were found to be influential, including corporate self-governance, investor regimes, and industry associations. Domestic laws were found to have limited influence, particularly on our Case Subjects.

Though we see incremental progress through corporate self-governance, great potential with industry associations, the increasing influence of global standards, and the potential of domestic legislation in Canada, even collectively these laws cannot sufficiently influence HRDD in Canadian MNCs across their entire global value chains. For our polycentric universe of laws to have the necessary influence, the narrative must change. The voluntarism we observed throughout the findings, in the Case Subjects, in the industry organizations, in the global standards, and to a lesser extent in the international instruments and legislation, is rooted around the current narrative of accepting incremental improvements and starting from what companies and those interacting with them think they can do. The complexities of the supply chains and the global value chains are being accepted as a barrier to HRDD across the entire global value chain, even though these structures were created by the MNCs themselves.

Our new narrative requires us to start from the perspective of the entire global value chain and work backwards from that. The starting point needs to be that companies are responsible for HRDD across their entire supply chains, in response to which they can address the complexities or simplify their supply chains or both. This will take time and effort, but we know that companies can solve complex problems and they are already evidencing their ability to manage supply chain, operational, and labour chain issues. Industry associations have a role to play as well, as do global standard setters and other stakeholders.

The articles provided include excerpts from the PhD – an outline of the study, conclusions on why corporate self-governance, ESG mainstreaming, and industry associations are not enough to carry out this new narrative, and finally, conclusions on the essential role of Canadian lawmakers and specific recommendations for Canadian lawmakers in advancing this narrative. The articles can be read independently, but there are cross-references between the articles as well as definitions and details in the outline of the study that are not repeated in the other articles.



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