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8 Law and Business Research 3 (2018)


Forty-five years passed between the release of the first major United Nations report referencing the need to regulate transnational corporations and the release of the Zero Draft. Those years were accompanied by vibrant scholarly work and debate, as well as a significant jurisprudence, corporate engagement, and civil society discourse and activism that, cumulatively, has resulted in a much better understanding of how the once very distinct ideas of “business” and “human rights” are now merged by an ampersand. The field of business & human rights signifies the introduction of polycentric governance and law that binds businesses, sometimes softly and sometimes concretely, to take cognizance of international human rights. The work of the intrepid scholars, judges, activists and individuals who have charted the course through the vexing problems impeding the course from the 1970s and 80s to the current day is largely recognized as completed, and this moment has been aptly called “the end of the beginning” in the field of business and human rights. It is in this context that this Essay will discuss both the casualties and laments of the past forty-five years, as well as the grounding for optimism at this moment. This Essay was prepared as a contribution to a conference on Corporate Accountability for Human Rights Abuses and the Law held in Seoul, South Korea, in November 2018. Because I was invited to focus my reflections on the role of, and perspectives from, the United States, this Essay will rarely drift afield of these boundaries, though readers should not lose sight of the intrinsically global and transnational nature of all issues evoked by discussions on business and human rights.


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