Global resource governance and IEL: can human rights advance social justice? (IEL Collective Symposium II)

By Dr Lorenzo Cotula, Principal Researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development; Honorary Professor at the University of Strathclyde.

As our demand for material goods drives natural resource extraction, the law reconfigures control over resources to facilitate the production of tradable commodities. Faced with profound social transformations, indigenous and agrarian movements have mobilised human rights to reclaim land, resources and development pathways. This recourse to rights provides distinctive insights on the place of human rights in social justice struggles.

Resource control and international economic law (IEL)

The growing levels and expectations of material consumption in the rich world rest on the large-scale production of commodities for food, energy and raw materials. The correlative expansion and intensification of natural resource extraction has historically involved large-scale mining, petroleum, logging and agribusiness developments, but also more indirect forms of resource control, for example through the integration of small-scale producers into commercial value chains. (more…)

Looking at Investment Arbitration through Roland Barthes’ Eyes (IEL Collective Symposium II)

By Dr. Paolo Vargiu, Lecturer in Law (University of Leicester)

Roland Barthes was never particularly interested in the law. Were he alive today, however, it is hard to imagine that he would be a strong supporter of a regime like investment arbitration – a system which, in spite of its best original intentions, has long been exposed by its critics for the lack of balance in rights and obligations and the abuse of the mechanism to increase the already disproportionate power of multinational corporations vis-à-vis the state where they invest. However, his literary production can nonetheless serve as a model for inquiring on aspects of the investment arbitral regime that remain somehow at the margins of the scholarly critique.

In his essay “Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers” (1971), Barthes theorised an imaginary contract between teachers and students, with specific tasks and expectations brought into the contractual relationship by both parties. Barthes’ teachers are neither mere providers of information nor simply the means used by the school to educate students: instead, they are at once erudite, educators, mentors, instructors and tutors. The term magister may be more appropriate to define Barthes’ teachers for they carry the burden to not only instruct on specific tasks, but also to represent schools of thought, and to act as guides, almost gurus, towards enlightenment, knowledge, and skill. They are vested, in other words, with the duty of developing the community they guide; and, rather than self-conferred, it is a duty given to them by such community. (more…)

The IEL Collective Symposium II – Disrupting Narratives on International Economic Law: Theory, Pedagogy and Practice

By Dr Clair Gammage & Dr Amaka Vanni, For and on behalf of the IEL Collective

In 2019, a group of scholars in the discipline of International Economic Law (IEL) launched the IEL Collective to provide a space for critical reflections of the regulation and conduct of states, international organisations and private actors in economic governance within and across state boundaries. International economic law (IEL) as an arena of scholarship, policy and practice has developed exponentially over the past three decades, evolving from a sub-field of public international law into a multi-layered, highly specialised discipline of its own. As a field of study, IEL encompasses a broad range of issues relating to the law, regulation and governance of the global economy, including trade, investment, finance, intellectual property, business regulation, energy and competition law. It is a discipline that intersects with other disciplines, such as international and domestic labour law, human rights, and environment as recognised by the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, in the discipline of IEL there remain significant questions over the plurality and diversity of methodologies, voices and viewpoints. (more…)

Know Your Enemy: Racism and Islamophobia

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

According to a recent report by a cross-party group of MPs, ‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’. This definition has, however, been rejected by the government and criticised by others[1] not least on the grounds that, although Islamophobia coincides with racism in certain contexts, this is not always the case. Understanding the differences and similarities between various kinds of social prejudice is important not only for intellectual reasons, but also because a lack of clarity may militate against tackling them effectively.

In the popular sense, ‘race’/‘ethnicity’ involves shared physical identity (particularly skin colour and facial features), plus assumptions about kinship and origins more often imagined than real. Standard components of ‘racism’, typically based on myth, caricature and stereotype, generally include the belief that races possess distinct and inherent characteristics including social practices, the sense that one’s own race is superior to most if not all others, and express or implicit prejudice against people of races apart from one’s own.

‘Islamophobia’ generally refers to irrational antagonism towards Islam and/or Muslims also typically based on myth, caricature and misleading stereotype. Strictly speaking, a ‘phobia’ is a clinically observable anxiety disorder defined by recurrent and excessive fear of an object or situation. The term has, however, been extended to include individual and collective hostility towards minorities such as homosexuals (homophobia), foreigners (xenophobia) and Islam/Muslims (Islamophobia).

Racial and anti-Muslim discrimination can clearly overlap, particularly in England and Wales where over 90% of Muslims are non-white. (more…)

Conclusions from the Workshop on Labour Behind the Food System

On June 14th 2019, a group of academics, union representatives, civil society organisers, and members of food-related NGOs and think tanks gathered in Bristol along with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Professor Hilal Elver. The intention was to look closely at the condition of work and workers behind the UK food system. Throughout the day, we shared testimonies, experiences and accounts concerning the main challenges and obstacles faced by workers from farm to fork, including beyond the boundaries of the United Kingdom. We discussed trafficking, modern slavery, low wages, availability, technological innovation, migration, and several other issues that affect and characterize the life and the future of people who make our food possible. We have closely followed the ongoing conversations around the UK Food Strategy, including a consultation that opened just last week, along with the parliamentary debate around the Agricultural Bill and the proposals on the new post-CAP domestic settlement for agriculture. We have also been particularly attentive to the increase in household food insecurity in the country, in particular among farmworkers, farmers and workers within the food sector. It is striking that hunger, obesity and malnutrition are increasingly felt among those who produce and transform food.

In light of our research, experiences and conversations, we have listed below some of the main conclusions arising from our workshop. There is no food without labour, and because a healthy and justly rewarded workforce is essential to a sustainable food system, we consider that these elements should inform the whole process of the UK food strategy. When it comes to labour, the future of food is not only about a skilled workforce that knows how to use technology. It is about: an integrated approach and greater coordination within the food system; attention to the bottlenecks; a broad notion of food workers; intersectionality; transparency and visibility; protection, respect and fulfilment of the workers’ human and labour rights; access to justice and reliable enforcement;  and  fair access and use of technological innovation. (more…)

Promoting the next generation of health law scholarship

By Prof John Coggon and Prof Judy Laing (Bristol University Law School)

In October 2017, we were proud and honoured to mark the launch of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) in the University of Bristol Law School. The Centre is founded on ambitious aims to push the boundaries of scholarship in health law: expand its methods and approaches; broaden its practical reach and points of focus; enhance its place in shaping education; and increase its engagement with, relevance to, and impacts on people, organisations, regulators, and policy-makers across society.

Our launch event allowed a showcase of the breadth of scholarly interest and inquiry within CHLS, as well as an opportunity to hear presentations from leading figures in health, law, and associated disciplines. We start from a basic premise that the value and significance of health requires understandings from ranging disciplinary perspectives, looking across social sectors and actors. We are interested in the roles served by law to protect and promote rights, achieve greater social justice, and to ensure that health and other fundamental values are secured fairly for all.

Since the time of our launch, CHLS has gone from strength to strength. Our community of students, academics and collaborators continues to grow. And we are delighted in March 2019 to publish a Special Issue of the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly (NILQ), which shows well the depth, range and reach of our ambitions. The Special Issue comprises contributions from 11 of CHLS’ members, as well as from colleagues from other universities. They represent legal scholarship that engages with ethical considerations and social justice, history, human rights, philosophy, politics and social sciences. They approach questions spanning from very individualised rights, to population- and systems-level analyses. (more…)

Three cheers for the independent review of Prevent

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights and Dr Lindsey Bell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Of the four ‘Ps’ which frame the UK’s counterterrorist strategy – Pursue, Prepare, Protect and Prevent – the latter is by far the most controversial. It aims to stop people from becoming terrorists, or from supporting those who already are, by countering terrorist ideology and challenging those who promote it (‘counter-radicalization’), steering vulnerable individuals away from it (‘de-radicalization’), and working with sectors and institutions where these risks are considered high. Over 50,000 people and over 2,500 institutions – including schools, universities, mosques, and faith groups – engage with Prevent in over 40 priority areas and over a million people have received relevant training. De-radicalization is coordinated by Channel, an official multi-agency initiative offering non-compulsory, tailor-made support plans based on counselling and encouragement of approved activities, to those willing to receive them. On 22 January 2019 the security minister, Ben Wallace, announced that Prevent would be independently reviewed in accordance with an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill currently wending its way through parliament. This should be welcomed by everyone with an interest in effective, human rights-compliant counterterrorist law and policy and particularly by those, like us, who have long contested the mythology of the anti-Prevent movement. (more…)

Postscript: Addressing Intersectional Anxiety

By Dr Shreya Atrey, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School)

Photo: Keith Rowley (Flickr)

I recently published an article in the Human Rights Quarterly titled ‘Women’s Human Rights: From Progress to Transformation, An Intersectional Response to Martha Nussbaum.’ As the title suggests the article is an extended rumination over Martha Nussbaum’s earlier article in the same journal titled ‘Women’s Progress and Women’s Human Rights.’ My article examines the account of women’s progress that Nussbaum presented. In particular, it asks the ‘intersectional question’ about women’s progress made under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The account of progress appears wanting when this question is asked; and I try to spell out the reasons for why post-colonial, Dalit and so-called ‘third world’ feminisms fall by the wayside of women’s progress when progress is examined closely. I argue that progress is transformative only when it is inclusive, i.e. intersectional in that it sees women not only as disadvantaged by their sex or gender alone but also on the basis of their race, colour, religion, caste, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. Readers may see the article for more on this, especially pages 877-884 for a Dalit feminist critique.

Here, I want to pre-empt two kinds of readings which are given to intersectional scholarship like this one. I am not saying that either Nussbaum’s or my own article opens up intersectional scholarship to these readings. But that often, this kind of work is read in a particular light which casts a shadow of anxiety over intersectionality. I want to air and address two ways in which it manifests itself and show that there are ways of overcoming it and finding such scholarship worthwhile. (more…)

How Might Human Rights Contribute to Countering Extremism in the UK?

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School )

Photo credit: Wiredforlogo

Many, including the government, are convinced that ‘extremism’ is implicated in the current terrorist threat and in some of the challenges which arise in the promotion of integration and the maintenance of social cohesion in a society as diverse as the UK. It is, of course, undeniable that terrorism involves ‘violent extremism’. But it is less clear that there is a problem with ‘non-violent extremism’, or at least that it is of such significance that the state and society should be mobilizing to address it. Yet, it is also difficult to deny that the profile of ideas and behaviour hostile to humane values, tolerance and mutual respect has increased in recent years, particularly as a result of the internet and social media. It is against these backgrounds that an independent Commission for Countering Extremism was established by the government in March 2018. At the core of its mission lie three questions: what precisely is ‘extremism’? What kind of threats and risks does it pose? And what, if anything, should state and society do about it? This brief contribution considers the role that human rights might play in finding some answers.
(more…)

Having your cake and eating it? Reflections on the UK Supreme Court’s decision in the ‘Belfast gay marriage cake’ case

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

Photo: QueerSpace

On 10 October 2018 five judges on a panel of the UK Supreme Court unanimously held that the owners of Ashers bakery in Belfast, Mr and Mrs McArthur, had not violated the rights of LGBT activist, Mr Gareth Lee, by refusing to supply a cake decorated with Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, the logo of the campaign group ‘QueerSpace’, and the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’. The bakery had initially accepted Mr Lee’s order but declined to complete it and returned his money on the grounds that the proposed message conflicted with the deeply held religious convictions of the proprietors, that the only form of marriage consistent with the Bible and acceptable to God is that between a man and a woman. Supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Mr Lee brought a claim against the bakery and the McArthurs (‘the appellants’) for direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and/or on grounds of religious belief and/or political opinion contrary to relevant legislation. In March 2015 a county court judge held that Mr Lee had been the victim of direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religious opinion and political belief. The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal subsequently upheld the sexual orientation complaint and decided there was no need to settle the other issues. Having earlier been joined as party to the appellate proceedings, on 28 October 2016, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland referred the matter to the UK Supreme Court where it was heard together with the appeal by the McArthurs and the bakery (more…)