In a recently published article, I draw together some thoughts on the relationship between international law and social change. While I can do no more than provide a flavour of some of the themes explored in the article, I hope these reflections are at least thought-provoking.
A brief glance at the preamble to the UN Charter, which commits to the promotion of ‘social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’, is indicative of the unique way in which international law asserts its own inherently ‘progressive’ character. Regardless of whether one shares this vision, a more modest connection between law and social change will be familiar to many. This is the idea that international law can be harnessed to advance a particular cause – that it is, in essence, an empty vessel that can be filled with progressive content. This assumption, often implicit but rarely articulated or confronted, is what my article seeks to address. (more…)
By Dr. Georgina Tsagas, Senior Lecturer in Law (Brunel University) and Prof Charlotte Villiers, Professor of Company Law (University of Bristol Law School).
In our paper we shed light on why ‘Less is More’ in the Non-Financial Reporting landscape and explain how an effective decluttering of the non-financial reporting landscape can take place by focusing on improving and widening the scope of the application of the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive.
What is the root cause of the problem at hand?
Knowing ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing’ is more than just a nice turn of phrase that Oscar Wilde had Lord Darlington quip in one of his plays. Projecting into the future, the phrase has spoken volumes on how modern society has drifted away from cultural values and has also highlighted society’s collective failure to place those values on a par with financial ones. Yet in the area of corporations’ non-financial reporting the problem remains that, although in the year 2020 we have reached a common ground on the fact that sustainability is a value worth preserving, there is no rate, no metric, no price nor cost attached to it, which arguably creates chaos for private and public actors alike. Not only do identified stakeholders face the negative consequences, but in both the short term and long term all actors involved and affected corporations, as well as society as a whole, will face the adverse effects of corporations’ unsustainable practices. The fact that sustainability cannot be accounted for in a consistent way is the essence of the problem. Assuming that the chaotic framework for non-financial reporting is part of the problem, we argue that fixing that framework must be part of the solution. (more…)
The toppling of the statue of Edward Colston has made the front pages of newspapers all over the world. “Hooray!” read an email from an Australian friend the next morning, “I’ve just been enjoying reading and viewing the pushing of that vanity statue of a slave trader into Bristol waters and thought of you and my brief stay in Bristol. What a great moment in the history of your city. Took far too long but at last the day arrived”.
As many more now know, Edward Colston (1636-1721) was the son of a prosperous Bristol merchant who after an apprenticeship with the London Mercers’ Company in 1654, established a successful business in London, trading with Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Africa. In 1680 he became a shareholder in the Royal African Company, which had a monopoly on trade with Africa until 1688, after which it received fees from English traders. Colston took a leading role in the Company, serving on several committees, becoming deputy governor in 1689. The RAC is estimated to have transported around 84,000 African men, women and children, who had been traded as slaves in West Africa, to the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas, of whom 19,000 died on their journey. Thousands who arrived had the initials “RAC” branded on their chests. In 1863, Colston was both elected a free burgess of the city and became a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers, enabling him to trade out of Bristol before towards the end of his life becoming an MP for Bristol (1710-14), despite living in Mortlake in Surrey. (more…)
In what now seems like the very far-off pre-lockdown part of 2020, an article of mine was published, the culmination of a project I had been working on for two years or more, and had presented, at different stages in its development, to audiences at the International Medieval Congress in 2017 and the British Legal History Conference in 2019. Judging a Hereford hanging: Agnes Glover v. Walter Devereux, William Herbert and others (1457)[i] considered the events of a few days in the spring of 1456, when the English city of Hereford was taken over by a mixed Welsh and English force, led by notable men of south east Wales and Herefordshire. William Herbert and Walter Devereux, along with their kin and connections, the Vaughans. A member of the Vaughan family – Watkin Vaughan – had been killed in Hereford, slain with an arrow through the heart, as one record has it, and the Herbert-Devereux-Vaughan allies came to Hereford to seek justice or revenge for this outrage. They obliged local citizens to try and convict six Hereford men for the killing, then proceeded to hang them. Legal action followed, as Agnes Glover, the widow of one of the hanged Hereford men attempted to prosecute the main offenders. The case went on for some legal terms, but, in the end, there was a spate of pardoning, and nobody was punished in accordance with the full rigour of the law. (more…)
By Prof Judy Laing, Professor of Mental Health Law, Rights and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)
Mental Health Awareness week is an important time to reflect on how the Covid-19 pandemic is generating a global crisis in mental health. Earlier this month, the United Nations published a policy brief warning that: ‘Although the Covid crisis is, in the first instance, a physical health crisis, is has the seeds of a major mental health crisis as well.’
Stringent lockdown measures have increased social isolation, and for many, this is creating huge psychological distress. That is further impacted by the fear of infection, death and losing relatives and close friends to the virus. The state of the economy is creating additional anxiety and stress for those who have lost or are at risk of losing their income and livelihoods. Professor David Gunnell (a colleague at the University of Bristol who researches on suicide and self-harm) has highlighted with others in The Lancet that the pandemic will ‘leave many people vulnerable to mental health problems and suicidal behaviour, and increased risks of suicide’. Taking action now to prevent the risk of suicide is therefore imperative. And the United Nations policy brief also urges national governments to take positive action to ensure widespread availability of mental health support, as well as building mental health services for the future to promote recovery from the pandemic. (more…)
Children are often the hidden victims in adult-dominated conflicts. This appears to be particularly the case when citizens of other states travel to an area of on-going conflict in order to participate and/or support a side in the conflict. As evidence relating to foreign fighters supportive of ISIS demonstrates, the decisions of the parents have significantly affected the position of their children who either travelled with them or were born there. Such children number in the many thousands. While the documented numbers are already high, commentators note that it is likely that these figures do not represent the full reality. The statistics may be omitting those children recently born in or currently residing in besieged, and almost impossible to access, areas. These estimated figures are also unlikely to include those who have not had their births properly recorded, those of whom the authorities have lost track, and those who were unknown to the authorities in the first instance. (more…)
By Prof Keith Syrett, Professor of Health Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)
The European Union has been widely criticised for its response to the outbreak of pandemic coronavirus (COVID-19) in early 2020. Still distracted by Brexit and, more recently by the Turkish migrant crisis, EU leaders were caught off guard by the rapid spread of the virus, initially into Italy. Member states took actions into their own hands, imposing border controls, banning exports of protective equipment and, later, banning mass gatherings, closing schools, and instituting lockdowns, while the EU appeared to be a largely impotent bystander.
Beyond its terrible death toll and massive public health implications, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures put in place to try to contain or mitigate it are bound to have severe and long-lasting economic effects. The European Union (EU) and its economic and financial governance now face very significant challenges, possibly exceeding those of the 2008 crisis. The way in which these challenges are addressed will not only determine the path and speed of European (economic) recovery, but perhaps also pave the way for further changes beyond the pandemic. Here I reflect on some implications of the COVID-19 response for EU-wide public debt instruments. (more…)
In this post I analyse some of the contradictions present in the current penal response to Covid-19 in England and Wales, represented in a recent Crown Prosecution Service press release. Coercive criminal law measures which clearly and proportionately penalize those who endanger emergency workers, or engage in fraudulent conduct, may be justified. But civil liberties must be considered on both sides. I challenge the punitive narrative which celebrates sending those convicted of coronavirus crimes to prisons where Covid-19 has the potential to be rampant. The rights to life and health of offenders—put at risk in overcrowded prisons—must also be considered. (more…)
As governments have imposed physical distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus, the engines of global economic production have ground to a standstill. Almost half of humanity is under some form of lockdown. No one knows for certain the long-term impacts, but the IMF predicts that global output per head will shrink by 4.2 per cent this year, almost three times more than the amount logged in 2009 during the global financial crisis. In some cases, the once-creaking welfare systems of rich Global North countries have responded with remarkable speed, announcing a range of measures to keep businesses afloat, protect employment, and provide income support to those who have lost their jobs—although Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has pointed out that the American version, true to form, benefits corporations more than individuals. As Pankaj Mishra recently put it, “it has taken a disaster for the state to assume its original responsibility to protect citizens.” However, citizenship is the fulcrum upon which this newfound social solidarity turns. Workers in the Global South who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 have been left destitute and homeless with almost no support forthcoming from their governments or the international community. Similarly, many migrant workers in the United States fall outside the purview of the state welfare aid. (more…)