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New NYU Stern Textbook to Advance Study of Business and Human Rights

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Three years ago, NYU Stern School of Business became the first leading U.S. business school to establish a center dedicated to advancing human rights through better business practices. Now, maintaining its position in the vanguard of this movement, the Center for Business and Human Rights has literally written the book on the subject.

Business and Human Rights: From Principles to Practice is the first-ever comprehensive, interdisciplinary text to tackle the challenges facing companies as they seek to pursue both profits and the protection of human rights. Through its publication, editors Dorothée Baumann-Pauly and Justine Nolan hope to spur examination of these complex issues at business schools across the country and the world, bringing the issue of business and human rights to the forefront of business education.

“There is no other textbook on business and human rights out there, which we viewed as a major gap in the literature,” says Baumann-Pauly. “We want to push business and human rights teaching at business schools in general, and having a book out there helps us start those conversations.”

business and human rightsContributors from Academia and the Field
Beyond being the first of its kind, the text also brings together a chorus of distinct voices made up of both professors and practitioners. Its more than 30 contributors include business, legal and political science experts, representatives from nongovernmental organizations and university provosts, among others. A few of those featured are Michael Posner, co-director of Stern’s Center for Human Rights and Business and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; human rights, sustainability and responsible investment expert Bennett Freeman; and Caroline Rees, lead advisor to the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights.

Looking closely at the regulatory framework upon which the business and human rights debate is built, the text zeroes in on the business and legal challenges faced by companies and stakeholders seeking to protect human rights, the mechanisms currently in place to hold corporations accountable and some of the challenges the future may hold.

Central to the text is a chapter on multi-stakeholder initiatives made up of representatives from corporations, civil society and academia—such as the Fair Labor Association, which addresses workers’ rights in global supply chains, and the Global Network Initiative, focused on human rights in the information and technology industry. “We believe these multi-stakeholder initiatives are a pragmatic approach to regulating business and human rights,” Baumann-Pauly says.

She and co-editor Nolan carefully selected supporting cases drawn from range of industries—including manufacturing, apparel, agriculture, private security services and others. Taken together, they provide an overview of current themes, offer guidance on practical implementation and underscore the fact that understanding these challenges in now essential in any business context.

Both Business and Academia Have Offered Praise
Already, the book has drawn critical acclaim from both the business and academic worlds. Unilever CEO Paul Polman called it “an important contribution to a vital subject” offering valuable insight for both current and future practitioners. “Recognizing the challenges and preparing effectively are vital to drive responsible and sustainable business,” he continued.

“Baumann-Pauly and Nolan have written an important and ambitious book, tackling a topic that remains increasingly urgent and still understudied: how to integrate human rights concerns into global business,” writes Barnard College President Debora Spar. She praised the editors’ skillful examination of the complex topic and the multiple realistic strategies they propose for stakeholders to bring human rights issues to the fore in the corporate world.

The editors bring not only academic backgrounds but also practical experience, which helped them curate such a wide-ranging collection of contributors. “We could rely on very strong networks in both spheres. Essentially this is a small field, we knew the key players and they all agreed that such a book is long overdue and happily agreed to contribute,” Baumann-Pauly says.