Human Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility Conference

A two-day international conference on the relationship between human rights and corporate social responsibility was held at the Aula Magna of the Foundation for International Studies on 13 and 14 November 2002 within the context of the Mediterranean Masters Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation, which is supported by the European Commission.

Both speakers and audience, which was quite numerous, came from various countries and hailed from different backgrounds such as law, banking, international relations and business. The conference focused on the relationship between public and corporate interests, and how the globalisation of the world economy and increased role of the multinational corporation affects human rights. Christopher Cassetta and Radu Mares from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund, discussed the effects of CSR on human rights and the role of the US Courts as arbiters of human rights.  Fabrizio Pagani, from the OECD Legal Directorate gave an analysis of the various OECD legal instruments aimed at enhancing corporate social responsibility while Francesco Straniero, from the Delegation of the European Commission in Malta, gave an interesting overview of the European Union and CSR policy.  The second day of the conference saw interventions by John Pace, formerly of the UNCHR and currently a visiting fellow at the University of New South Wales, on the United Nations Global Compact.  The balancing of corporate, governmental and citizen's rights seen in the context of the WTO was discussed by Lucienne Attard of the George Washington University School of Law.  An intervention from Joseph F. X. Zahra, the Chairman of the Bank of Valletta evaluated whether profitability and corporate social responsibility are compatible, while Helga Ellul, Managing Director of Brandstatter Malta Ltd, discussed CSR from an employer's perspective.  Other presentations included those of speakers from the University of Sydney and the University of the Western Cape.

Patricia Mallia, Academic Coordinator of the conference commented that the speakers recognized  that 'globalisation of the world economy has significantly influenced issues concerning human rights.  It has not only affected the content, nature and enforcement of human rights but has also led to the identification of new violators, i.e., multinational corporations. Owing to MNC's ever-increasing role in various sectors of society, corporate interests and policies need to be directed at promoting economic, social and cultural rights. 'Today, MNC's have become the prime actors in the era of globalisation; they are the real users of globalisation'. (Surya Deva, University of Sydney). Radu Mares (Lund) held the same view, arguing that 'transnational corporations (TNCs) interest human rights specialists because of their wealth and cross-border activity'.  These facts were examined from both the purely human rights aspects, and the other facet of responsible business conduct. This common thread was analysed from the different angles of the WTO, the OECD and the UN Global Compact.  International perspectives were also discussed, looking at the EU position and the role of the US Courts in the global enforcement of human rights.  Members of the business community questioned whether competitiveness and corporate social responsibility are indeed compatible.

The Global Compact, which was the topic of John Pace's paper, is inspired by principles of corporate social responsibility which manifests itself in a wide range of activities, from sponsorship of local soccer teams, to major projects involving considerable resources.'  He cited a July 2002 report by the UN's Global Compact Office which links the Global Compact to the process of globalisation and asserts the need for effective cooperative responses to common economic and social problems. To make globalisaton both more stable and inclusive, the Secretary-General challenged the private sector to enhance its commitment to the public interest' the Compact seeks to make globalisation more equitable - and thus more sustainable - for the vast numbers currently excluded from the international market place.

The very high-quality of papers presented and the ideas put forward by the speakers  were extremely well received by the audience which participated actively in the post-presentation debates.

The proceedings of the conference are currently being edited and are expected to be published by early next year.