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Professor Backer presents research at UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Two research projects by Larry Catá Backer, professor of law and international affairs at Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, were selected for inclusion for presentation at the 2017 U.N. Forum for Business and Human Rights, held Nov. 27-29 in Geneva.

The presentations were included in the forum’s “snapshot” track, which will involve brief presentations of tools, initiatives, or research followed by brief Q&A with the presenter. The UN Forum is the world's largest annual gathering on business and human rights and is dedicated to advancing the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

In his Nov. 29 presentation, “Embedding Human Rights Due Diligence in the University,” Backer sketched out a program of research that has three principle objectives.

“The first is to get a sense of the ways which universities have actually begun to think about the effects of their operations in human rights terms,” Backer explains on his blog, Law at the End of the Day. “The second is to develop a set of resources for universities and university stakeholders to help these institutions comply with their responsibilities to respect human rights within the constraints of their own domestic legal systems in a way compatible with emerging international norms. The third is to begin to think about the way grievance mechanisms can be developed and operated by, in or through the university to aid those institutions in the implementation of strategies to conform their operations to human rights norms.”

Earlier in the conference, Flora Sapio, Backer’s coauthor and colleague at the Coalition for Peace & Ethics, presented their work “Beyond Western Approaches to Non-Judicial Grievance Mechanisms” in another snapshot session on Nov. 27. Sapio’s presentation described their research considering the transposition of the business and human rights project for states operating within socialist economic and political systems.

“It suggests both target areas, those aspects of the emerging discourse of business and human rights that do not ‘translate well’ from Western political and economic sensibilities and premises to those that serve as the foundation for socialist states,” Backer explains on his blog. “Building on that, the project then suggests both the potential difficulties and approaches to robustly embedding business and human rights practices within the social, political, and economic systems that do not easily fit into the mold of developed Western states.”

Concept notes and slides for both presentations can be found on Backer’s blog.

Backer also participated in a book launch event at the U.N. Forum for Building a Treaty on Business and Human Rights: Context and Contours, to which he contributed a chapter. Published by Cambridge University Press, the book brings together leading academics from around the world to explore the need for an international treaty on the human rights obligations of transnational corporations and other businesses.

Backer researches globalization, especially as it relates to the emergence of ways of understanding constitutional and enterprise law. His most recent work touches on the regulation of multinational corporations, sovereign wealth funds, transnational constitutionalism, and the convergence of public and private law. He researches issues of governments as private actors in global markets, the development of law and social norm systems to regulate business and human rights.

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