UniGE Spring Semester Opening Lecture: The Challenge of Human Rights in Business

Never before has the bar for business success been higher: companies operate in an increasingly competitive global business environment and they are also expected to conduct their business in a way that does not cause harm for people or the planet. In a world that is increasingly interconnected and transparent, companies are not only accountable to national laws and regulations, but also to public expectations.
Is it possible for companies to integrate human rights in core operations while running a successful business?

Prof. Dorothée Baumann-Pauly launched the University of Geneva’s spring semester with a lecture on the challenge of human rights in business. She presented her work as a business ethics scholar, and argued that the current crisis offers a unique opportunity to innovate and develop sustainable business models. She added that companies that embrace this challenge are set up for long-term business success, and become a force for sustainable development that creates value for business and society. The lecture was followed by a series of questions and answers that focused on the importance of realizing that human rights issues are not only the responsibility of governments but that they must also be tackled by businesses and investors.

Date: 23 February 2021, 6:30-7:30 pm
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Scroll down to watch the Lecture in English or with simultaneous interpretation in French

Title of Dorothée Baumann-Pauly’s presentation over a picture of hands holding fresh coffee beans

Opening Lecture Presentation

Never before has the bar for business success been higher: companies operate in an increasingly competitive global business environment and they are also expected to conduct their business in a way that does not cause harm for people or the planet. In a world that is increasingly interconnected and transparent, companies are not only accountable to national laws and regulations, but also to public expectations. Images from tragic accidents in textile factories in Bangladesh, child labor in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or forced labor of Uighurs in Chinese cotton fields, are shocking consumers and investors and they raise questions about the role of companies to prevent such human rights violations. However, today’s business models are often in conflict with public expectations and human rights in particular seem to present paradoxical management challenges. Is it possible for companies to integrate human rights in core operations while running a successful business?

The current pandemic accentuates this tension even more. Not only does it constitute a global public health emergency, but it is also generating a major international economic crisis. The consequences for workers, particularly those in developing countries, who lack social safety nets, can be disastrous. The World Bank estimates that Covid19 impacts could push over 100 Million people into extreme poverty.

However, the experience of the pandemic is also advancing unprecedented reflections about our current global economic system. The World Economic Forum is discussing “The Great Reset”; several UN organizations have called for “Building Forward Better” and a “green and just recovery”. Scholars in economics ask to reimagine capitalism and to assign economic value to the societal impacts of business activities. In addition, a growing number of companies are signaling their intention to be good citizens, even if implementation in practice often lags behind announced public commitments.

In this talk, Professor Dorothée Baumann-Pauly will argue that the current crisis offers a unique opportunity to innovate and develop sustainable business models. By placing human rights at the heart of their business models, companies can reduce systemic risks. They can build more resilient supply chains and stronger organizations. Companies that embrace this challenge are set up for long-term business success. At the same time, they become a force for sustainable development that creates value for business and society.

Four pictures of the Lecture