From Frameworks to Profits: The Elfenworks Center for Responsible Business Examines the Interdependence of Business and Human Rights

Keynote speaker Karol Boudreaux, a lawyer, land tenure and resource rights expert, spoke about land rights and how they intersect with human rights. The Elfenworks Center for Responsible Business annual conference on March 1 addressed the topic From Frameworks to Profits: Examining the Interdependence of Business and Human Rights, bringing together a diverse group of lecturers in an all-day discussion.

Keynote speaker Karol Boudreaux, a lawyer, land tenure and resource rights expert, spoke about land rights and how they intersect with human rights. Demand has only increased for fertile land for farming, for renewable energy projects, for solar farms, wind farms, for infrastructure (roads, dams, etc.), and for urban expansion. In the developing world, 93 percent of all investment sites are inhabited and being used.

“80 percent of the world’s food is made by small farmers,” said Boudreaux, calling for action in an area in desperate need of definition to ensure and protect basic human dignities.  For these farmers, their access to lands they own or use can be tenuous.

There is a “silent epidemic” of people being killed or displaced, with land, rights, homes, and livelihood being taken away. In Africa, for example, many countries are hesitant to recognize the rights of African people. If people could contract directly, this might not be a problem, but in most cases they can't. In most countries, indigenous people do not have documentation proving that land is theirs. Boudreaux discussed the current perilous landscape for female land owners, outlined ways to monitor and prevent abuse of land rights, and explained how to properly engage a community.

“Land is power,” said Boudreaux. “There are a lot of things we need companies to do.”

The Elfenworks Conference hosted two panels which spoke complexly on how, historically; businesses have defined and honored human rights. They outlined many actions businesses have taken to comply with standards and prevent violations of human rights—both locally and globally—and discussed new models and current ethical practices, in order to inspire other businesses to address human rights as a whole.

During panel one, titled, “The Language and Framework of Human Rights: Foundations in Ethics, Theology, and Philosophy,” moderator Gregory Wolcott, professor, Department of Organizations and Responsible Business, introduced three speakers; Brian Buckley, senior lecturer in Philosophy at Santa Clara University, Ted Tsukahara, chair of the John F. Henning Institute, and Lauren Speeth, founder and CEO of Elfenworks Foundation.

The panelists spoke on multiple topics, including the history of the Catholic Church, the philosophy behind its focus on social justice and a call to action in a time of historically unprecedented climate change, due to its portended effects on humans and their basic rights.

“Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is mine to the other. Charity never lacks justice, but promises to give the other what his due is. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them,” counseled Tskukahara.

For panel two, titled, Human Rights Implementation and Compliance by Businesses,” moderator Professor Kevin McGarry, associate director of Elfenworks Center for Responsible Business, introduced Victoria Mesa, employment law, compliance, and immigration attorney at Florida Legal Services, Kelly Melia-Teevan, advisor on global issues and public policies at Chevron Corporation, Katherine Daniels, an independent consultant, Brian Durkee, an SMC alumnus and the COO of Numi Tea and Desta Raines, senior director of apparel and home goods at Fair Trade USA.

The panelists discussed ethical business practices, how to empower workers, how to define the role of business and human rights, legal perspectives, gender issues and the need for transparency in supply chains. Contrary to public perception, said Durke, “Agriculture is the second largest contributor to global warming, at a whopping 68 percent.”

Numi Tea COO, Brian Durke