Enhancing Human Rights Protection is a Company Lawyer’s Business – Inaugural Address by Professor Cees van Dam

Company lawyers can and should be a force for good when it comes to protecting human rights, says Professor Cees van Dam, endowed professor of International Business and Human Rights at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). Professor Van Dam will publicly accept his appointment on Friday 18 September 2015 with an inaugural lecture in which he will outline his research topics in this new endowed chair, which is sponsored by Amnesty International Netherlands and the Foundation for Peace Sciences (Stichting Vredeswetenschappen or SVW).

In many multinational companies human rights policies were initially developed by their Public Relations or Corporate Social Responsibility departments. Legal departments only played a limited role because such companies hardly owed legally enforceable duties for involvement in human rights violations in other countries. This lack of responsibilities stands in stark contrast to the freedom of trade that is strongly protected at a global level. “Trade has been globalised, justice not yet,” says Professor Van Dam.

Over the past years, however, legally enforceable duties have been slowly but gradually developed and this process is expected to continue over the next years. Van Dam’s inaugural lecture will outline his research agenda and will explore how a legal department deals with this changing legal landscape, and its interplay with other company departments.

More particularly, Van Dam will look at how changes in human rights policies take place and at the role of the legal department in this respect: is its role inactive, reactive, active or proactive? Van Dam will argue that there are sound legal reasons for a legal department to let the company take on an active or proactive role in protecting human rights.

One of Van Dam’s main research questions will therefore be to investigate if the legal department can induce the company to not just respect human rights but also to enhance the protection of human rights and hence become a force for good.

The inaugural address will take place on Friday, 18 September 2015 and is open for all. The ceremony will start promptly at 4:00pm in the Auditorium (Erasmus Building), Burgemeester Oudlaan 50 in Rotterdam. The reception will take place at 4:45pm in the same building.

Cees van Dam is an authority in liability law and human rights and has broad expertise in business and human rights. In addition to his role at RSM, he also works for King’s College London and Maastricht University. He has written more than 150 publications, including 10 books on national and international law. In 2008, he wrote the book Business and Human Rights. In 2013, Oxford University Press published the second edition of his book European Tort Law, which covers liability law in France, Germany, the UK and the European Union, as well as jurisprudence from the European Court of Human Rights. Together with four other academics, he wrote a letter to the United States Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs in the case of Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. in 2012.

Amnesty International is an independent and impartial human-rights organisation with more than three million members and financial supporters in more than 150 countries and territories. Amnesty International investigates human rights abuses, and campaigns to bring them to a halt. The organisation works towards a world where everyone enjoys the same rights, as enshrined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights tools. Amnesty International is independent of any government, political ideology, religion or economic interest. The organisation also investigates the behaviour of companies, while pointing to their responsibility for observance of human rights.

The Foundation for Peace Sciences (Stichting VredesWetenschappen) is an independent foundation, created in October 2004. Through science, the foundation aims to make a positive contribution to the processes of peacebuilding. SVW works on setting up a network of endowed chairs at institutions of higher education, conducting research into the requirements for peace. Each chair researches these requirements from its own perspective. Through networking and co-operation, the chairs provide society with new insights into how to encourage peace processes around the world. In developing this network, SVW works together with NGOs in the spheres of peace, human rights and economic development. In conjunction with The University for Peace in The Hague, SVW organises the annual Visions on Peace award for master theses. An annual conference devoted to a topical theme is held in connection with the awarding of the prize. In 2015, SVW will also launch a HBO Peace in Practice Award, and two research grants for young academics at RSM’s sister faculty, the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

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Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is ranked among Europe’s top-tier business schools for education and among the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam - a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM also has offices in the Amsterdam Zuidas business district and in Taipei, Taiwan.

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