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The University of Southampton

LAWS6143 Business and Human Rights

Module Overview

Transnational corporations have a significant impact on the level of the enjoyment of human rights and often undermine their effectiveness, particularly in the Global South. This module examines corporate human rights abuses and the legal responses to these abuses. The starting point here is that under conventional human rights law, companies are not subject to human rights duties. Furthermore, particularly in the developing world, many States lack the political will or legal armoury to hold TNCs to account for local environmental damage, health and safety failings or abuses of labour rights. This module critically engages with the state-centric, territorially limited conception of human rights and its inability to redress corporate human rights abuses. It also explores alternative attempts to rectify this failure through the promotion and adoption of CSR frameworks and policy initiatives such as the United Nation’s ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework’ (2011), but also through criminal law and civil litigation. Can victims of corporate human rights abuses from the Global South bring tort claims against the parent company in the Global North?

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The global legal framework that facilitates corporate forum shopping and corporate human rights abuses.
  • The state-centric framework of human rights law and its application to corporations as beneficiaries rather than duty bearers.
  • Alternative avenues for addressing corporate human rights abuses, such as Corporate Social Responsibility frameworks, UN policy initiatives, criminal law and civil tort litigation.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse and interpret legal materials, identify key legal principles and issues and, where appropriate, make constructive criticisms of the framework of human rights in its application to corporations.
  • Communicate effectively knowledge of these human rights issues and their resolution and present reasoned arguments.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Undertake independent research and access primary and secondary sources effectively.
  • Communicate arguments in writing and reference sources appropriately.


The syllabus will be structured around the three main questions: what are the structural causes of corporate human rights abuses, how does human rights law respond to these abuses and what are alternative avenues for relief? (1) Background: Structural causes behind corporate human rights abuses (2) State-centric human rights law and its (non)application to transnational corporations a. Vertical and territorial conception of human rights b. Corporate personality in global groups (3) Alternative avenues for redressing corporate human rights abuses, such as: a. National criminal Law implementing Conventions e.g. anti-bribery b. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) frameworks c. UN policy initiatives d. Civil tort litigation These areas are indicative only as to the content of the course.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods: One 2-hour seminar per week Learning activities include: • Directed and additional reading, as per distributed reading lists reproduced on Blackboard; • Engagement with media business reports so that you can relate the materials being discussed to contemporary controversies.

Independent Study130
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Books. The course reading consists of materials which will be provided electronically via Blackboard with case law available electronically on either Westlaw or LexisNexis.





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4500 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4500 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4500 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Recommended texts for this module may be available in limited supply in the University Library and students may wish to purchase reading texts as appropriate.

Printing and Photocopying Costs

Students are able to assess the materials on Blackboard but may incur some printing costs if they prefer to have hard copies of some documents rather than reading everything on screen.


The reading for the Module will be available on Blackboard and consists mainly of journal articles which will be available in the Library or electronically through Westlaw. There is no set textbook for this module.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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