Friday, November 18, 2022

Why the Judge Was Right to Rule Against DeSantis' Stop WOKE Act

As much as I love being a professor, it can be hard. I’m not talking about the grading, keeping the attention of the TikTok generation, or helping students with the rising mental health challenges.

I mean that it’s hard to know what to say in a classroom. On the one hand, you want to make sure that students learn and understand the importance of critical thinking and disagreeing without being disagreeable.

On the other hand, you worry about whether a factual statement taken out of context or your interpretation of an issue could land you in the cross hairs of cancel culture without the benefit of any debate or discussion.

I’m not an obvious person who should be worried about this. Although I learned from some of the original proponents of critical race theory in law school, that’s not my area of expertise. I teach about ESG, corporate law, and compliance issues.

But I think about this dilemma when I talk about corporate responsibility and corporate speech on hot button issues. I especially think about it when I teach business and human rights, where there are topics that may be too controversial to teach because some issues are too close to home and for many students and faculty members, it’s difficult to see the other side. So I sometimes self censor.

My colleagues who teach in public universities in Florida had even more reason to self censor because of the Stop WOKE act, which had eight topics related to race, gender, critical race theory and other matters that the State deemed “noxious” or problematic.

Yesterday, a federal court issued a 139-page opinion calling the law “dystopian.” The court noted that Justice Sotomayor could violate the law by guest lecturing in a law school and reading from her biography where she talks about how she benefitted from affirmative action. That’s absurd.

I had the chance to give my views to the Washington Post yesterday. This law never personally affected me but as the court noted, the university is the original marketplace of ideas. I told the reporter that one of my areas of expertise, ESG, is full of the kinds of issues that the government of the State of Florida has issues with. I told him that I was glad that I worked at a private university because academic freedom makes me more comfortable to raise issues.  I noted that students need the ability to play devil's advocate and speak freely because there's no way to mold the next generation of thinkers and lawmakers without free speech. I explained that you can't write the laws if you're not willing to hear more than one point of view. 

I hope that we get back to the days when professors don’t self censor, whether there’s a law in place or not. Of course there are some statements that are unacceptable and should never be taught in a classroom.

But I worry that some in this generation don’t know the difference between controversial and contemptible. That goes for my friends of all ideologies.

I worry that some students are missing out on so much because our society doesn’t know how to engage in civil discourse about weighty topics. So people either rant or stay silent.

In any event, my rant is over.

Today is a day for celebration.

Congratulations to my colleagues in public universities.

Reason has won out.

November 18, 2022 in Constitutional Law, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Litigation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 4, 2022

How Generation, Nationality, and Expertise Influence Stakeholder Prioritization of Tech Social Issues- Pt. 2

Last month, I posted about an experiment I conducted with students and international lawyers. I’ve asked my law student, Kaitlyn Jauregui to draft this post summarizing the groups’ reasoning and provide her insights. Next week, I’ll provide mine in light of what I’m hearing at various conferences, including this week’s International Bar Association meeting. This post is in her words.

After watching The Social Dilemma, participants completed a group exercise by deciding which social issues were a priority in the eyes of different tech industry stakeholders. The Social Dilemma is a 2020 docudrama that exposes how social media controls that influences the behavior, mental health, and political views of users by subjecting them to various algorithms. Director Jeff Orlowski interviewed founding and past tech employees of some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley to bring awareness to viewers.  

Groups of primarily American college students, primarily American law students, one group of Latin American lawyers, and one group of international lawyers completed the exercise. Each of the groups deliberated from the perspective of a CEO, investor, consumer, or NGO.  Acting as that stakeholder, the team then ranked the following issues in order of importance: Incitements to violence, Labor Issues, Suppression of Speech, Mental Health, Surveillance, and Fake News. 

How The Groups Performed

The college students attend an American law school, but they are not necessarily all American. The groups’ logic behind their rankings could not be provided. I provided the rankings in the last post.

Law Students

The law students attend and American law school, but they are not necessarily all American. They considered six social issues.

Team CEO: Law Students

1.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

2.    Surveillance

3.    Mental Health

4.    Fake News

5.    Suppression of Speech

6.    Incitements to Violence

The law students assigned to view the issues as a CEO based their rankings on an internal to external approach. They believed the CEO is responsible for the operations of the company so would first try to solve internal issues such as labor issues because that would directly affect the bottom line. Surveillance and mental health ranked #2 because the team assumed that these issues directly related to customer satisfaction and retention. Because this group took on the role as a tech CEO and not a social media CEO, they did not view 4-6 as important. Fake news was only relevant if it was about the company. Suppression of speech was not problematic to them because it would not directly impact their business. Finally, they did not view incitement to violence as relevant to the business operations so ranked it last.

Team Investor: Law Students

1.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

2.    Incitements to Violence

3.    Surveillance

4.    Suppression of Speech

5.    Fake News

6.    Mental Health

The law students who prioritized social issues as if they were an Investor approached the task considering market forces. They chose labor issues first because it poses challenges to business operations. Whatever looks bad for revenue generation such as incitement to violence and surveillance means their investment would look bad as well. It is important to note they viewed this assignment as an institutional investor. The remaining factors were not imperative to the success of the tech company so were ranked lower.

Team NGO: Law Students

1.    Fake News

2.    Incitement to Violence

3.    Mental Health

4.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

5.    Surveillance

6.    Suppression of Speech

The law students who took on a role as an NGO based their sense of urgency on the danger and risks the involved in each issue. At the top was fake news because they thought misinformation when taken as fact was unhealthy for making decisions and forming opinions. Incitement to violence closely followed because political polarization can lead to hateful actions outside of social media. They found mental health to be important because of statistics showing teens committing self-harm or worse as a result of social media use. Although labor Issues are abroad, the NGO team could not ignore it. Surveillance was not key to them because they believed platforms are already taking measures against it. And lastly, suppression of speech was not as important to them as deleting hate speech and fake news.

Team Consumer: Law Students

1.    Surveillance

2.    Mental Health

3.    Incitement to Violence

4.    Suppression of Speech

5.    Fake News

6.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

The law students who took on their natural roles as consumers found social issues more important than financial forces. They referred to the many advertisements that tech companies like Apple and Google are posting against surveillance. The effects of social media on mental health and even physical health also stood out to them. As a group of law students, they are informed individuals who can spot fake news so did not see that as a priority. Lastly, labor issues are not in the consumers’ sight so are out of mind and therefore not a priority.

Latin American Lawyers

*The Latin American Lawyers did not consider Fake News or Incitements to Violence.

Team CEO: Latin American Lawyers

1.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

2.    Surveillance

3.    Suppression of Speech

4.    Mental Health

5.    -

6.    -

The Latin American lawyers ranked the social issues regarding business success and long-term goals. Labor issues were their top concern because it influences the legal challenges faced by the company and the costs of production. “Information is power” so surveillance restrictions would greatly decrease money earned from selling data gathered. They did not see suppression of speech as an issue because the company itself is not limited. Mental health was ultimately last because it does not impair business operations.

Team Investor: Latin American Lawyers

1.    Mental Health

2.    Surveillance

3.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

4.    Suppression of Speech

5.    -

6.    -

The Latin American lawyers listed their priorities as a socially responsible Investor. Mental health triggered the most urgency for them because the negative influence of social media on users is growing and is not slowing down. Heavy surveillance conflicts with the rights of persons like themselves so it is a great risk for them. Although labor issues were important, they did not think of it as a widespread issue affecting large populations of people. Lastly, suppression of speech was not a concern at all for them.

Team NGO: Latin American Lawyers

1.    Surveillance

2.    Suppression of Speech / Fake News

3.    Mental Health

4.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

5.    -

6.    -

The Latin American lawyers who participated as an NGO focused their efforts on user experience and rights. They found surveillance to be a growing concern and a human right violation for users. Suppression of speech was also very important to them, especially in the scope of the team’s nationality because of political distress in their home countries. For countries with political instability, their citizens are more conscious of infringed rights through social media. Fake news and censorship on virtual platforms can ultimately destroy the democracy of countries in their point of view. The team preferred life over work so chose to rank mental health higher than labor issues.

Team Consumer: Latin American Lawyers

1.    Surveillance

2.    Suppression of Speech / Fake News

3.    Mental Health

4.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

5.    -

6.    -

The Latin American lawyers used their personal perspective as consumers to rank in accordance with social concerns. Surveillance was seen as a major problem because it makes users uncomfortable knowing that their activity is tracked and sold as data. Suppression of speech was grouped with fake news as an important issue regarding the rights and freedom of the consumers. The gatekeeping of information from mainstream media in general was a concern for these consumers because they feel as if they are being controlled and concealed from the truth. Although the negative mental health results on teens from social media is important, the consumers thought this was the responsibility of parents and not of other consumers. Labor issues were of no concern because the consumers felt as if they have no control over the matter. 

International Lawyers

The International Group comprised of participants from Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jamaica, Mexico, Nepal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. The group was not assigned to rank Mental Health as a social issue. The groups’ logic behind their rankings could not be provided.

Team CEO: International Lawyers

1.    Fake News

2.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

3.    Surveillance

4.    Incitement to Violence

5.    Suppression of Speech

6.    -

Team Investor: International Lawyers (Socially Responsible)

1.    Incitement to Violence

2.    Fake News

3.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

4.    Surveillance

5.    Suppression of Speech

6.    -

Team Investor: International Lawyers (Institutional)

1.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

2.    Incitements to Violence

3.    Suppression of Speech

4.    Fake News

5.    Surveillance

6.    -

Team NGO: International Lawyers

1.    Fake News

2.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

3.    Suppression of Speech

4.    Incitements to Violence

5.    Surveillance

6.    -

 

Team Consumer: International Lawyers

1.    Incitements to Violence

2.    Suppression of Speech

3.    Fake News

4.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

5.    Surveillance

6.    -

 Insights

When given a business or financial oriented role, the teams ranked the social issues by focusing on whether it impacts company performance. Teams with community or advocate roles tended to rank the social issues according to impact on society. Team CEO prioritized labor issues and surveillance the most. Labor issues along with incitements to violence were of top concern for Team Investor. Fake news was the number one issue for Team NGO. Team Consumer, which reflects the average personal view of the participants, believed incitements to violence and surveillance were the most pressing social issues in the tech industry. Labor issues were the least important to the consumer participants, which is interesting in scope of consumer purchase decisions overall and not just in tech.

The Team Consumer data is reflective of each of the groups’ personal beliefs because all participants are also consumers. The College Students prioritized mental health. Both the law students and the Latin American lawyers found surveillance the most important tech issue. International lawyers instead thought incitement to violence more pressing. A possible explanation is that people in the U.S. and Latin America are trying to protect their privacy from intrusive technology. Because the international lawyers had participants from countries where incitement to violence are occurring, that may be why it was important to them.

Suppression of speech closely followed for Latin American Lawyers and International Lawyers whereas Mental Health was the second priority for the primarily American law Students. Many citizens of countries around the globe face oppressive governments that censor speech which may be influential in why Suppression of Speech was ranked highly. In the United States, citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech and press which is why this issue may not be as concerning for them. American teens also suffer from more mental illness as a result of social media use, possibly why it is second place.

Practices in corporate culture and opinions on social issues are influenced by the ethnic makeup of the employees. Although the stakeholder roles the groups took are the most determinative factor, their nationality is naturally a bias in their decision-making.

The Lewis Model is a triangular spectrum that identifies the prominent features of different cultures. Richard Lewis spoke 10 languages, visited 135 countries, and work in over 20 of them to find observable variability in social behavior. He recognized that stereotypes are unfair, but also emphasized that social norms are standards in each country. There are three defined points of culture: Linear Active, Multi-active, and Reactive.

  • Linear actives — those who plan, arrange, organize, do one thing at a time, follow action chains. They are truthful rather than diplomatic and do not fear confrontation. Their work and as well as personal life is based on logic rather than emotions. Linear actives like facts, fixed agenda and they are very job oriented. They are able to separate social-private and professional life.
  • Multi-actives — people belonging to this cultural category are able to do many things at once, planning their priorities not according to a time schedule, but according to the relative thrill or importance that each appointment brings with it. These cultures are very talkative and impulsive. These characteristics predict their orientation on people. They feel uncomfortable in silence. Multi-active people prefer face to face sessions.
  • Reactives — member of this group has in the priority list courtesy and respect on the top. This group is best listening culture. Listening quietly, reacting calmly and carefully to the other side's proposals are their traits as well. Reactive cultures are the world’s best listeners in as much as they concentrate on what the speaker is saying, do not interrupt a speaker while the discourse or presentation is on-going. Reactive people have large reserves of energy. Reactives tend to use names less frequently than other cultural categories.

How does the Lewis Model explain the results?

The primarily American college and law students fall under linear-active with their priorities aligned with individual rights and performance.

The Latin American lawyers are multi-active, think about the social issues in terms of impact on the community and on building relationships.

The International lawyers are comprised of participants all over the world, bringing in aspects from all over the spectrum.

The Lewis Model most likely plays a part in how each participant individually arrived at their own rankings and how they then communicated to agree on a reflective ranking together. The conversations guiding to the final result would have probably shown more insight as to how and why these social issues are important.

Age

The age of the participants is another influential factors because of the generational variation in trust in surveilling technologies. Generation Z, Millennials, and Generation X+ were asked in a survey how comfortable they felt with programs like Alexa or Siri on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being very and 10 being not.

Generation Z: 7.73

Millennials: 8.28

Generation X+: 8.90

Older generations are more uneasy about virtual assistant technology.

With age comes more experience and better foresight. Researchers in Texas found that “older adults use the experience in decision-making accumulated over their lifetime to determine the long-term utility and not just the immediate benefit before making a choice. However, younger adults tend to focus their decision-making on instant gratification.”

How does age explain the results?

The majority of the college and law students were Generation Z or Millennials whereas the practicing attorneys were mostly Millennials or more senior.

As generations progress, younger people are more comfortable with surveillance technology than older people.

Expertise

Expertise of the participants surely impacted how they ranked social issues. The knowledge of experts in comparison to novices gives them a wider and practical approach to business and social issues. Here are some key aspects:

  1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
  2. Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.
  3. Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is “conditionalized” on a set of circumstances.
  4. Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.
  5. Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others.
  6. Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations.

Perhaps the practicing attorneys foresaw further down the line as to why one social issue was more pressing than another.

Thank you, Kaitlyn for providing your analysis of the results. Next week, I’ll provide mine.

November 4, 2022 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Social Enterprise, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2022

How Generation, Nationality, and Expertise Influence Stakeholder Prioritization of ESG Issues Pt. 1

You can’t read the business press without seeing some handwringing about ESG. It’s probably why I’ve been teaching, advising, and sitting on a lot more panels about the topic lately. Like it or not, it’s here to stay (at least for now) so I decided to do a completely unscientific experiment on lawyer and law student perceptions of ESG using a class simulation. Over the past three months, I’ve used the topic of tech companies and human rights obligations to demonstrate how the “S” factor plays out in real life. I used the same simulation for foreign lawyers in UM’s US Law in Action program, college students who participated in UM’s Summer Legal Academy, Latin American lawyers studying US Business Entities, and my own law students in my Regulatory Compliance, Corporate Governance, and Sustainability class at the University of Miami.

Prior to the simulation, I required the students to watch The Social Dilemma,  the Netflix documentary about the potentially dangerous effects of social media on individuals and society at large. I also lectured on the shareholder v. stakeholder debate; the role of investors, consumers, NGOs, and governments in shaping the debate about ESG; and the basics of business and human rights. Within business and human rights, we looked at labor, surveillance, speech, and other human rights issues that tech and social media companies may impact.

Participants completed a prioritization exercise based on their assigned roles as either CEO, investor, government, NGO, consumer, or influencer. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison because some groups did not look at all of the issues and some had different stakeholders. In this post, I will provide the results. In a future post, I’ll provide some thoughts and analysis.

The topics for prioritization were:

Labor- in complex global supply chains that often employ workers in developing countries, how much responsibility should companies bear for forced labor particularly for Uyghur labor in China and child labor in global mining and supply chains? What about the conditions in factories and warehouses before and during the COVID era? 

Surveillance- how much responsibility do tech companies bear for the (un)ethical use of AI and surveillance of citizens and employees?

Mental Health- how much should companies care about the impact of the “like” button and the role social media plays in bullying, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicide, especially among pre-teens and teens?

Fake News- should a social media company allow information on platforms that is demonstrably false? What if allowing fake news is profitable because it keeps more eyeballs on the page and thus raises ad revenue? Should Congress repeal Section 230?

Incitement to violence- what responsibilities do social media companies have when content leads to violence? We specifically looked at some of the issues with Meta (Facebook) and India, but we also examined this more broadly.

Suppression of Speech- should a social media company ever suppress speech? This was closely related to fake news and the incitement to violence prompt and some groups combined these.  

The Rankings

 

International Lawyers (approximately 40 total participants)

The international lawyer group consisted of participants from Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jamaica, Mexico, Nepal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. The group was not assigned to rank mental health as a social issue.

CEO:

  1. Fake news
  2. Labor
  3. Surveillance
  4. Incitement to violence
  5. Suppression of speech

Socially responsible investors:

  1. Incitement to violence
  2. Fake news
  3. Labor
  4. Surveillance
  5. Suppression of speech

Institutional investors:

  1. Labor
  2. Incitement to violence
  3. Suppression of speech
  4. Fake news
  5. Surveillance

NGO:

  1. Fake news
  2. Labor
  3. Suppression of speech
  4. Incitement to violence
  5. Surveillance

Consumers:

  1. Incitement to violence
  2. Suppression of speech
  3. Fake news
  4. Labor
  5. Surveillance

Latin American Lawyers (approximately 10 total participants)

The Latin American lawyers combined fake news and incitements to violence with suppression of speech.

 CEOs:

  1. Labor
  2. Surveillance
  3. Suppression of speech
  4. Mental health

Investors (they chose socially responsible investors):

  1. Mental health
  2. Surveillance
  3. Labor
  4. Suppression of speech

NGO:

  1. Surveillance
  2. Suppression of speech
  3. Mental health
  4. Labor

Consumers:

  1. Surveillance
  2. Suppression of speech
  3. Mental health
  4. Labor

 

Law Students (approximately 52 total participants)

The law students considered six social issues. Several are LLMs or not from the United States, although they attend school at University of Miami.

CEOs:

  1. Labor
  2. Surveillance
  3. Mental Health
  4. Fake News
  5. Suppression of Speech
  6. Incitements to Violence

Investors:

  1. Labor
  2. Incitements to violence
  3. Surveillance
  4. Suppression of speech
  5. Fake news
  6. Mental health

NGO:

  1. Fake news
  2. Incitement to violence
  3. Mental health
  4. Labor
  5. Surveillance
  6. Suppression of speech

Consumers:

  1. Surveillance
  2. Mental Health
  3. Incitement to Violence
  4. Suppression of speech
  5. Fake news
  6. Labor

College Students

Given how little work experience this group had, I divided them into groups of CEOs, investors (no split between institutional and socially responsible investors), members of Congress, social media influencers, and consumers. They also combined suppression of speech, fake news, and incitement to violence in one category.

            CEOs:

  1. Speech
  2. Surveillance
  3. Labor issues
  4. Mental health ramifications

            Investors:

  1. Labor issues
  2. Speech
  3. Surveillance
  4. Mental Health

            Congress:

  1. Speech
  2. Surveillance
  3. Labor
  4. Mental Health

     Consumers:

  1. Mental Health
  2. Speech
  3. Labor
  4. Surveillance

            Influencers:

  1. Mental Health
  2. Speech
  3. Labor
  4. Surveillance

What does this all mean? To be honest, notwithstanding my sophisticated, clickbait blog title, I have no idea. Further, with two of the groups, English was not the first language for most of the participants. Obviously, the sample sizes are too small to be statistically significant. I have thoughts, though, and will post them next week. If you have theories based on the demographics, I would love to hear your comments. 

September 23, 2022 in Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 29, 2022

Practical Tips for Teaching or Training Adult Learners

Millions of law school graduates around the US just took the bar exam. Others are preparing to enter colleges and graduates schools in a few weeks. How will these respective groups do? While a lot depends on how much and how well they study, a large part of their success or failure may depend on how they've been taught. I recently posted about how adults learn and what the research says we should do differently. In this post, I'll show how I used some of the best practices in the last ten days when I taught forty foreign lawyers from around the world  and thirty college students in separate summer courses offered by the University of Miami as well as nine Latin American lawyers who were taking courses in business law from a Panamanian school. I taught these disparate groups about ESG, disclosures, and human rights. With each of the cohorts, I conducted a simulation where I divided them into groups to prioritize issues based on whether they were a CEO, an investor, a consumer, the head of an NGO, and for the US college students, I added the roles of a member of Congress or influencer. In a future post, I will discuss how the groups prioritized the issues based on their demographics. Fascinating stuff. 

Depending on what you read, there are six key principles related to adult learning:

1. It seems obvious, but adults need to know why they should learn something. Children learn because they are primed to listen to authority figures. Too often in law school or corporate training, there's no correlation to what they learn and what they actually do. When I taught the two groups of foreign lawyers, I talked about the reality and the hype about ESG and how the topic could arise in their practices with specific examples. When I spoke to the college students who were considering law school, I focused on their roles and responsibilities as current consumers and as the future investors, legislators, and heads of NGOs. Same powerpoint but different emphasis.

2. Adults are self-directed. Under one definition, "self-directed learning describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes." This may seem radical because many of my colleagues complain that today's students need a lot of hand holding and spoon feeding, and I agree to some extent. But I also think that we don't give students enough credit and we underestimate them. I developed my curriculum for the practicing lawyers but I also asked what they wanted to learn and what would be most useful for them. I only had a few hours with them, so I wasn't able to explore this much as I would have. But in some of my traditional courses at the law school and when I train adults in other contexts, I often give a choice of the exam type and topic. This ensures that they will submit a work product that they are passionate about. At the end of my traditional classes at the law school, I also ask them to evaluate themselves and me based on the learning outcomes I established at the beginning of the semester. They tend to be brutally honest about whether they've taken responsibility for their own learning.

3. Adults filter what we tell them through their life experiences. In my traditional classes, I send out a survey to every student before the semester starts so that I understand their backgrounds, perspectives, and what's important to them. I often pick hypotheticals in class that directly address what I've learned about them through the surveys so it resonates much more clearly for them. With my three groups this week, I didn't have the chance to survey them but I knew where they were all from and used examples from their countries of origin, when I could. When the college students entered the Zoom room, I asked them to tell me why they picked this class. This helped me understand their perspectives. I also picked up on some of their comments during discussion and used those data points to pivot quickly when needed. It would have been easy to focus on my prepared lecture. But what does ESG mean to a lawyer in Bolivia, when that's not a priority? College students quickly grasped the context of socially responsible investing, so I spent more time there than on the Equator Principles, for example. The cultural and generational differences were particularly relevant when talking about the responsibility of tech companies from a human rights perspective. The lawyers and students from authoritarian regimes looked at social media and the power to influence the masses in one way, while the college students saw the issues differently, and focused more on the mental health issues affecting their peers. Stay tuned for a future post on this, including interesting discussion on whether Congress should repeal Section 230.

4. Adults become ready to learn only when they see how what they are learning applies to what they need to do at work and at home. With the foreign lawyers, I focused on how their clients could have to participate in due diligence or disclosure as part of a request from a company higher up in the supply chain. I focused on reputational issues with the lawyers who worked at larger companies. College students don't deal with supply chains on a regular basis so I spent more time focusing on their role as consumers and their participation in boycotts at their universities and their activism on campus and how that does or does not affect what companies do. 

5. Adults need a task-centered or problem-focused approach to learning. I had to lecture to impart the information, but with each group, they learned by doing. I had 12 hours with the Latin American lawyers so to test them on their understanding of US business entities, instead of having them complete a multiple choice quiz, I asked them to interview me as a prospective client and develop a memo to me related providing the advice, which is what they would do  in practice. They, with the other groups, also prioritized the issues discussed above from their assigned roles as CEO, NGO head, institutional investor, or consumer. When I teach my compliance course to law students, they draft policies, hold simulated board meetings, and present (fake) CLEs or trainings. My business and human rights students  have the option to draft national action plans, write case studies on companies that they love or hate, or write develop recommendations for governments for their home country. Students are much more likely to engage with the material and remember it when they feel like they are solving a real problem rather than a hypothetical.

6. Adults need extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Everyone I taught this week will get some sort of certificate of completion. But they all chose to take these courses and those who weren't part of the UM program either self paid or were reimbursed by their employers. None of them were required to attend the classes, unlike those in elementary and high school. When students choose a course of study and learn something relevant, that's even more important than the certificate or diploma. 

I hope this helps some of you getting ready for the upcoming semester. Enjoy what's left of the summer, and if you try any of these suggestions or have some of your own, please leave a comment.

 

July 29, 2022 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, M&A, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 20, 2022

What Do FIFA, Nike, and PornHub Have In Common?

It's a lovely Friday night for grading papers for my Business and Human Rights course where we focused on ESG, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. My students met with in-house counsel, academics, and a consultant to institutional investors; held mock board meetings; heard directly from people who influenced the official drafts of EU's mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence directive  and the ABA's Model Contract Clauses for Human Rights; and conducted simulations (including acting as former Congolese rebels and staffers for Mitch McConnell during a conflict minerals exercise). Although I don't expect them all to specialize in this area of the law, I'm thrilled that they took the course so seriously, especially now with the Biden Administration rewriting its National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct with public comments due at the end of this month.

The papers at the top of my stack right now:

  1. Apple: The Latest Iphone's Camera Fails to Zoom Into the Company's Labor Exploitation
  2. TikTok Knows More About Your Child Than You Do: TikTok’s Violations of Children’s Human Right to Privacy in their Data and Personal Information
  3. Redraft of the Nestle v. Doe Supreme Court opinion
  4. Pornhub or Torthub? When “Commitment to Trust and Safety” Equals Safeguarding of Human Rights: A Case Study of Pornhub Through The Lens of Felites v. MindGeek 
  5. Principle Violations and Normative Breaches: the Dakota Access Pipeline - Human rights implications beyond the land and beyond the State
  6. FIFA’s Human Rights Commitments and Controversies: The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game
  7. The Duty to Respect: An Analysis of Business, Climate Change, and Human Rights
  8. Just Wash It: How Nike uses woke-washing to cover up its workplace abuses
  9. Colombia’s armed conflict, business, and human rights
  10. Artificial Intelligence & Human Rights Implications: The Project Maven in the ‘Business of war.’
  11. A Human Rights Approach to “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”: Corporate Accountability and Regulation
  12. Don’t Talk to Strangers” and Other Antiquated Childhood Rules Because The Proverbial Stranger Now Lives in Your Phone
  13. Case studies on SnapChat, Nestle Bottling Company, Lush Cosmetics, YouTube Kidfluencers, and others 

Business and human rights touches more areas than most people expect including fast fashion, megasporting events, due diligence disclosures,  climate change and just transitions, AI and surveillance, infrastructure and project finance, the use of slave labor in supply chains, and socially responsible investing. If you're interested in learning more, check out the Business and Human Rights Resources Center, which tracks 10,000 companies around the world. 

May 20, 2022 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 11, 2022

Business and Sports

Between the Winter Olympics and the Superbowl, this weekend is a sports-lover's dream. But it can also be a nightmare for others. Next week in my Business and Human Rights class, we'll discuss the business of sports and the role of business in sports. For some very brief background, under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the state has a duty to protect human rights but businesses have a responsibility (not a duty) to "respect" human rights, which means they can't make things worse. Businesses should also mitigate negative human rights impacts. I say "should" because the UNGPs aren't binding on businesses and there's a hodgepodge of due diligence and disclosure regimes that often conflict and overlap. But things are changing and with ESG discussions being all the rage and human rights and labor falling under the "S" factor, businesses need to do more. The EU is also finalizing mandatory human rights due diligence rules and interestingly, some powerful investors and companies are on board, likely so there's some level of certainty and harmonization of standards. 

I've blogged in the past about human rights issues in sports, particularly the Olympics and World Cup in Brazil, where hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, FIFA had its own courts, and human rights issues abounded. For more on human rights and megasporting events, see this post about the Russian Olympics. The current Olympics in China and the future World Cup in Qatar have been rife with controversy because of the long-standing human rights abuses in those countries. Some athletes have even called the Winter Olympics the Genocide Olympics.

So whose problem is it? If businesses know that there's almost always some human rights impact with megasporting events and they know sponsorship doesn't really add to the bottom line, should they get out of the sponsorship business all together? Are they complicit or merely (innocent) bystanders?

Here are the questions I've asked my students to consider for class this week. 

  1. My hometown of Miami is vying for a spot to host the 2026 World Cup. What are the obligations of the "state" when it's a city? As the US government begins revising its National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct in accordance with the UNGPs, should a city do more than the national government? Should FIFA look at issues such as the effect of the games on the cities beyond revenue that will enrich only a few?
  2. Cities have a human rights obligation to protect their citizens but what responsibility do companies have to make sure they don't exacerbate pre-existing homelessness issues?
  3. Does it matter if the company sponsoring is Nike (directly working with athletes), Coca Cola (providing beverages), or another company that's just an advertiser? Is there a difference in the degree of corporate responsibility (if any)?
  4. Commentators have accused Nike and other companies of using forced labor in China. Is there a conflict with their support of Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement while also participating in events where there are alleged human rights abuses?
  5. What about the issue of human trafficking and megasporting events? It's such a big problem that the NFL has partnered with US Customs and Border Patrol for a public service announcement about it in light of the Superbowl. Are public service announcements enough?
  6. Should athletes boycott events in countries with poor human rights records? How would that affect their sponsorships and their other contractual obligations? A Boston Celtic called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, but who's really listening?
  7. How do what athletes say about Black Lives Matter and taking a knee square with participating in events in China? Should athletes, who are businesses, just shut up and dribble? If an athlete/businessman like LeBron James takes on Black Lives Matter does he have an equal obligation to protest against the use of forced labor in China?
  8. FIFA and the International Olympic Committee are corporations that base their human rights policies in part on the UNGPs. They have spoken out against discrimination, human rights, and  racism in sport.  Is it too much or too little? How far should a company like FIFA or the NFL go before they alienate fans by talking about hot button issues?
  9. Should fans boycott events that are known for human rights abuses? How does that affect the livelihood of the workers who depend on that revenue? Would a boycott benefit or hurt those who need the support the most?

I look forward to a lively discussion in class on Wednesday about the respective roles and responsibilities of the state, the companies, and the fans. Will you look at sports any differently after reading this post?  If you have thoughts, please leave a comment or email me at mweldon@law.miami.edu.

 

 

 

February 11, 2022 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, International Business, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Ten Ethical Traps for Business Lawyers

I'm so excited to present later this morning at the University of Tennessee College of Law Connecting the Threads Conference today at 10:45 EST. Here's the abstract from my presentation. In future posts, I will dive more deeply into some of these issues. These aren't the only ethical traps, of course, but there's only so many things you can talk about in a 45-minute slot. 

All lawyers strive to be ethical, but they don’t always know what they don’t know, and this ignorance can lead to ethical lapses or violations. This presentation will discuss ethical pitfalls related to conflicts of interest with individual and organizational clients; investing with clients; dealing with unsophisticated clients and opposing counsel; competence and new technologies; the ever-changing social media landscape; confidentiality; privilege issues for in-house counsel; and cross-border issues. Although any of the topics listed above could constitute an entire CLE session, this program will provide a high-level overview and review of the ethical issues that business lawyers face.

Specifically, this interactive session will discuss issues related to ABA Model Rules 1.5 (fees), 1.6 (confidentiality), 1.7 (conflicts of interest), 1.8 (prohibited transactions with a client), 1.10 (imputed conflicts of interest), 1.13 (organizational clients), 4.3 (dealing with an unrepresented person), 7.1 (communications about a lawyer’s services), 8.3 (reporting professional misconduct); and 8.4 (dishonesty, fraud, deceit).  

Discussion topics will include:

  1. Do lawyers have an ethical duty to take care of their wellbeing? Can a person with a substance use disorder or major mental health issue ethically represent their client? When can and should an impaired lawyer withdraw? When should a lawyer report a colleague?
  2. What ethical obligations arise when serving on a nonprofit board of directors? Can a board member draft organizational documents or advise the organization? What potential conflicts of interest can occur?
  3. What level of technology competence does an attorney need? What level of competence do attorneys need to advise on technology or emerging legal issues such as SPACs and cryptocurrencies? Is attending a CLE or law school course enough?
  4. What duties do lawyers have to educate themselves and advise clients on controversial issues such as business and human rights or ESG? Is every business lawyer now an ESG lawyer?
  5. What ethical rules apply when an in-house lawyer plays both a legal role and a business role in the same matter or organization? When can a lawyer representing a company provide legal advice to an employee?
  6. With remote investigations, due diligence, hearings, and mediations here to stay, how have professional duties changed in the virtual world? What guidance can we get from ABA Formal Opinion 498 issued in March 2021? How do you protect confidential information and also supervise others remotely?
  7. What social media practices run afoul of ethical rules and why? How have things changed with the explosion of lawyers on Instagram and TikTok?
  8. What can and should a lawyer do when dealing with a businessperson on the other side of the deal who is not represented by counsel or who is represented by unsophisticated counsel?
  9. When should lawyers barter with or take an equity stake in a client? How does a lawyer properly disclose potential conflicts?
  10. What are potential gaps in attorney-client privilege protection when dealing with cross-border issues? 

If you need some ethics CLE, please join in me and my co-bloggers, who will be discussing their scholarship. In case Joan Heminway's post from yesterday wasn't enough to entice you...

Professor Anderson’s topic is “Insider Trading in Response to Expressive Trading”, based upon his upcoming article for Transactions. He will also address the need for business lawyers to understand the rise in social-media-driven trading (SMD trading) and options available to issuers and their insiders when their stock is targeted by expressive traders.

Professor Baker’s topic is “Paying for Energy Peaks: Learning from Texas' February 2021 Power Crisis.” Professor Baker will provide an overview of the regulation of Texas’ electric power system and the severe outages in February 2021, explaining why Texas is on the forefront of challenges that will grow more prominent as the world transitions to cleaner energy. Next, it explains competing electric power business models and their regulation, including why many had long viewed Texas’ approach as commendable, and why the revealed problems will only grow more pressing. It concludes by suggesting benefits and challenges of these competing approaches and their accompanying regulation.

Professor Heminway’s topic is “Choice of Entity: The Fiscal Sponsorship Alternative to Nonprofit Incorporation.” Professor Heminway will discuss how for many small business projects that qualify for federal income tax treatment under Section 501(a) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, the time and expense of organizing, qualifying, and maintaining a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation may be daunting (or even prohibitive). Yet there would be advantages to entity formation and federal tax qualification that are not available (or not easily available) to unincorporated business projects. Professor Heminway addresses this conundrum by positing a third option—fiscal sponsorship—and articulating its contextual advantages.

Professor Moll’s topic is “An Empirical Analysis of Shareholder Oppression Disputes.” This panel will discuss how the doctrine of shareholder oppression protects minority shareholders in closely held corporations from the improper exercise of majority control, what factors motivate a court to find oppression liability, and what factors motivate a court to reject an oppression claim. Professor Moll will also examine how “oppression” has evolved from a statutory ground for involuntary dissolution to a statutory ground for a wide variety of relief.

Professor Murray’s topic is “Enforcing Benefit Corporation Reporting.” Professor Murray will begin his discussion by focusing on the increasing number of states that have included express punishments in their benefit corporation statutes for reporting failures. Part I summarizes and compares the statutory provisions adopted by various states regarding benefit reporting enforcement. Part II shares original compliance data for states with enforcement provisions and compares their rates to the states in the previous benefit reporting studies. Finally, Part III discusses the substance of the benefit reports and provides law and governance suggestions for improving social benefit.

All of this and more from the comfort of your own home. Hope to see you on Zoom today and next year in person at the beautiful UT campus.

September 24, 2021 in Colleen Baker, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Delaware, Ethics, Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, Human Rights, International Business, Joan Heminway, John Anderson, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Litigation, M&A, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 16, 2021

My Thoughts on Cuba

I've posted on Cuba and business in the past. See here, here, and here, for example.

I have 3,000 pictures of Cuba from my four visits to research and speak on business and human rights. I’ve written three law review articles and met with farmers, judges, lawyers, families of people who have “disappeared,” restaurant owners and others. For the law review articles see, Ten Ethics-Based Questions for U.S. Companies Seeking to do Business in Cuba, The Cuba Conundrum: Corporate Governance and Compliance Challenges for U.S. Publicly-Traded Companies, and You Say Embargo, I Say Bloqueo—A Policy Recommendation for Promoting Foreign Direct Investment and Safeguarding Human Rights in Cuba.

This is a different kind of post. It's more personal. 

My first visit in 2016 was during the Bienal art festival, where some of the most talented artists in the region had their work featured by the New York Times. I visited some of them in their homes. Later in the trip, I spent time with members of the Florida bar to learn from local lawyers and economists. One lawyer who spoke with us had to move to the US after someone misreported what he had said to us in a closed door meeting. Our tour guide reminded me that while we had dozens of cheeses and fruits to choose from in our hotel, the average Cuban had to use a ration card. Afrocuban women who walked into nice hotels were stopped because they were assumed to be prostitutes.

I met with Black lawyers in bufetes in Santiago de Cuba during a visit with the National Bar Association and Ben Crump. I sat on a panel with Cuban judges and received a copy of their Constitution as a gift. I was careful to use “bloqueo” instead of “embargo” in my remarks and gently corrected the interpreter when she put a slant on my words about human rights. The Cuban government searched all of our luggage when we landed and unlike other colleagues, my materials weren't confiscated because I made sure not to have hard copies. I destroyed my online version of my presentation as soon as I concluded. This was not any different from my past visits to do business in China and prepared me for my trip to teach in Pakistan in 2019.

The 2018 trip to Cuba was different from my other three visits. I smoked my first and last cigar in Cuba on a tobacco farm in Vinales. I walked the malecón every morning at sunrise to talk to fishermen. I didn't have to use government tour guides who were always watching. One upside of the Trump rules related to Cuba limiting US hotels was that Cubans opened their own AirbnBs. I met with a former accountant who wasn't making any money in his chosen profession but could now afford to travel overseas to get more materials for his Airbnb. He also restored old family cars and made more in a month hiring drivers to take care of his guests than he had in a year.  I went to a baseball game with locals, met with Afrocuban millennial entrepreneurs to learn about ceremonies, ritual, and culture, and watched a 21-year old driver marvel at being able to use the internet on his phone to find a date. The government had just opened up widespread internet access to Cubans the week before. He worried about using up his minutes like we used to ten years ago. Things weren't great, but they were looking up. 

I fell in love with the people and the culture. With each visit, I saw changes and more cautious, skeptical optimism from people. I had planned to visit again after Covid to see the effects of reforms. That will have to wait. I’m so proud of the Cuban people for standing up for themselves with the protests. The rise of the internet gave rise to the government’s worst fear. Artists and their music helped to motivate the people to ignore their fear of repercussions. Cuba is about so much more than rum, salsa, and restored cars. #soscuba

Cuba collage

July 16, 2021 in Compliance, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 9, 2021

New ABA Model Contract Clauses

As regular readers of the blog know, my passion is business and human rights, particularly related to supply chain due diligence and disclosure. The ABA has just released thirty-three model clauses  based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct. The ABA committee's reasoning for the model clauses is here:

The human rights performance of global supply chains is quickly becoming a hot button issue for anyone concerned with corporate governance and corporate accountability. Mandatory human rights due diligence legislation is on the near-term horizon in the E.U. Consumers and investors worldwide are increasingly concerned about buying from and investing in companies whose supply chains are tainted by forced or child labor or other human rights abuses. Government bodies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection are increasingly taking measures to stop tainted goods from entering the U.S. market. And supply chain litigation, whether led by human rights victims or Western consumers, is on the rise. There can therefore be little doubt that the face of global corporate accountability for human rights abuses within supply chains is changing. The issue is “coming home,” in other words. ... Some of the key MCCs 2.0 obligations include: (1) Human Rights Due Diligence: buyer and supplier must each conduct human rights due diligence before and during the term of the contract. This requires both parties to take appropriate steps to identify and mitigate human rights risks and to address adverse human rights impacts in their supply chains. (2) Buyer Responsibilities: buyer and supplier must each engage in responsible sourcing and purchasing practices (including practices with respect to order changes and responsible exits). A fuller description of responsible purchasing practices is contained in the Responsible Buyer Code of Conduct (Buyer Code), also developed and published by the Working Group. (3) Remediation: buyer and supplier must each prioritize stakeholder-centered remediation for human rights harms before or in conjunction with conventional contract remedies and damage assessments. Buyer must also participate in remediation if it caused or contributed to the adverse impact.

Even if you're not obsessed with business and human rights like I am, you may find the work product provides an interesting context in which to discuss contract clauses such as representations, warranties, and damages either in a first-year contract course or a transactional drafting course. 

April 9, 2021 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Ten Business Questions for the Biden Administration

If you read the title, you’ll see that I’m only going to ask questions. I have no answers, insights, or predictions until the President-elect announces more cabinet picks. After President Trump won the election in 2016, I posed eleven questions and then gave some preliminary commentary based on his cabinet picks two months later. Here are my initial questions based on what I’m interested in -- compliance, corporate governance, human rights, and ESG. I recognize that everyone will have their own list:

  1. How will the Administration view disclosures? Will Dodd-Frank conflict minerals disclosures stay in place, regardless of the effectiveness on reducing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Will the US add mandatory human rights due diligence and disclosures like the EU??
  2. Building on Question 1, will we see more stringent requirements for ESG disclosures? Will the US follow the EU model for financial services firms, which goes into effect in March 2021? With ESG accounting for 1 in 3 dollars of assets under management, will the Biden Administration look at ESG investing more favorably than the Trump DOL? How robust will climate and ESG disclosure get? We already know that disclosure of climate risks and greenhouse gases will be a priority. For more on some of the SEC commissioners’ views, see here.
  3. President-elect Biden has named what is shaping up to be the most diverse cabinet in history. What will this mean for the Trump administration’s Executive Order on diversity training and federal contractors? How will a Biden EEOC function and what will the priorities be?
  4. Building on Question 3, now that California and the NASDAQ have implemented rules and proposals on board diversity, will there be diversity mandates in other sectors of the federal government, perhaps for federal contractors? Is this the year that the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act passes? Will this embolden more states to put forth similar requirements?
  5. What will a Biden SEC look like? Will the SEC human capital disclosure requirements become more precise? Will we see more aggressive enforcement of large institutions and insider trading? Will there be more controls placed on proxy advisory firms? Is SEC Chair too small of a job for Preet Bharara?
  6. We had some of the highest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act fines on record under Trump’s Department of Justice. Will that ramp up under a new DOJ, especially as there may have been compliance failures and more bribery because of a world-wide recession and COVID? It’s more likely that sophisticated companies will be prepared because of the revamp of compliance programs based on the June 2020 DOJ Guidance on Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs and the second edition of the joint SEC/DOJ Resource Guide to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. (ok- that was an insight).
  7. How will the Biden Administration promote human rights, particularly as it relates to business? Congress has already taken some action related to exports tied to the use of Uighur forced labor in China. Will the incoming government be even more aggressive? I discussed some potential opportunities for legislation related to human rights abuses abroad in my last post about the Nestle v Doe case in front of the Supreme Court. One area that could use some help is the pretty anemic Obama-era US National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.
  8. What will a Biden Department of Labor prioritize? Will consumer protection advocates convince Biden to delay or dismantle the ERISA fiduciary rule? Will the 2020 joint employer rule stay in place? Will OSHA get the funding it needs to go after employers who aren’t safeguarding employees with COVID? Will unions have more power? Will we enter a more worker-friendly era?
  9. What will happen to whistleblowers? I served as a member of the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee for a few years under the Obama administration. Our committee had management, labor, academic, and other ad hoc members and we were tasked at looking at 22 laws enforced by OSHA, including Sarbanes-Oxley retaliation rules. We received notice that our services were no longer needed after the President’s inauguration in 2017. Hopefully, the Biden Administration will reconstitute it. In the meantime, the SEC awarded record amounts under the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program in 2020 and has just reformed the program to streamline it and get money to whistleblowers more quickly.
  10. What will President-elect Biden accomplish if the Democrats do not control the Congress?

There you have it. What questions would you have added? Comment below or email me at mweldon@law.miami.edu. 

December 18, 2020 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Did A Child Slave Help Make Your Chocolate Bar and If So, Who Should Be Responsible? The Supreme Court and Nestle v. Doe

If you’re sipping some hot chocolate while reading this post or buying your Hanukah or Christmas candy, chances are you’re consuming a product made with cocoa beans harvested by child slaves in Africa. Almost twenty years ago, the eight largest chocolate companies, a US Senator, a Congressman,  the Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, NGOs, and the ILO pledged through the Harkin Engel Protocol to eliminate “the worst forms of” child slavery and forced labor in supply chains. In 2010, after seeing almost no progress, government representatives fom the US, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast released a Framework of Action to support the implementation and to reduce the use of child and forced labor by 70% by 2020. But, the number of child slaves has actually increased.

2020 has come and almost gone and one of the Harkin Engel signatories, Nestle, and another food conglomerate, Cargill, had to defend themselves in front of the Supreme Court this week in a case filed in 2005 by former child slaves. The John Does were allegedly kidnapped in Mali and forced to work on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where they worked 12-14 hours a day in 100-degree weather, spoke a different language from the farmers, lived off dirty water and bowls of rice, and were never paid. According to counsel for the Respondents who gave a debrief earlier this week, the children were locked up at night, told to work or starve, whipped, and when one tried to escape, his feet were slashed and then hot chilis were rubbed into his soles. Respondents sued under the Alien Tort Statute, which Congress passed in 1789 to allow foreign citizens to sue in US federal courts for violations of “the law of nations” to avoid international tensions. In two recent cases, the Court has limited the use of the ATS against foreign corporations sued for acts against foreign plaintiffs because of jurisdictional grounds and ruled that foreign corporations were not subject to the ATS. But the Nestle and Cargill case is different. Respondents sued a US company and the US arm of a Swiss company. (Click here for access to the briefs and here to listen to the oral argument.) For an excellent symposium on the issues see here.

Respondents claim that the companies provided money and resources to the farmers in Africa and knew that child slaves harvested their cocoa. The two questions before the Court were:

  1. May an aiding and abetting claim against a domestic corporation brought under the Alien Tort Statute overcome the extraterritoriality bar where the claim is based on allegations of general corporate activity in the United States and where the Respondents cannot trace the alleged harms, which occurred abroad at the hands of unidentified foreign actors, to that activity?
  1. Does the judiciary have the authority under the Alien Tort Statute to impose liability on domestic corporations?

To those who obsess about business and human rights and ESG issues like I do, this case has huge potential implications. Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written more than half a dozen posts, law review articles, and an amicus brief on the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals disclosures, which purport to inform consumers about the use of forced labor and child slaves in the harvesting of tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. I’ve been skeptical of those disclosure rules that don’t have real penalties. The Nestle case could change all of that by crafting a cognizable cause of action.

To my surprise, the Justices weren’t completely hostile to the thought of corporate liability under the ATS. Here are some of the more telling questions to the counsel for the companies:

Justice Alito: Mr. Katyal, many of your arguments lead to results that are pretty hard to take. So suppose a U.S. corporation makes a big show of supporting every cause de jure but then surreptitiously hires agents in Africa to kidnap children and keep them in bondage on a plantation so that the corporation can buy cocoa or coffee or some other agricultural product at bargain prices. You would say that the victims who couldn't possibly get any recovery in the courts of the country where they had been held should be thrown out of court in the United States, where this corporation is headquartered and does business?

Justice Breyer: …I don't see why exempt all corporations, including domestic corporations, from this -- the scope of the statute.

Justice Kagan: If you could bring a suit against 10 slaveholders, when those 10 slaveholders form a corporation, why can’t you bring a suit against the corporation?

Justice Kavanaugh: The  Alien  Tort  Statute was once an engine of international human rights protection. Your position, however, would allow suits by aliens only against individuals, as you've said, and only for torts international law recognized that occurred in the United States. And Professor Koh's amicus brief on behalf of former government officials, for example, says that your position would "gut the statute." So why should we do that?

Here are some of the more interesting questions to the government, which supports the companies’ positions against application of the ATS to corporations:

Chief Justice Roberts: We don't have objections from foreign countries in this case. As far as we can tell, they're perfectly comfortable having U.S. citizens, U.S. corporations hailed into their U -- in U.S. courts. What should we make of that, and doesn't that suggest we ought to be a little more -- a little less cautious about finding a cause of action here?

Justice Breyer: …what’s new about suing corporations? When I looked it up once, there were 180 ATS lawsuits against corporations. Most of them lost but on other grounds. So why not sue a domestic corporation? You can't sue the individual because, in my hypothetical, the individuals have all moved to Lithuania. All you have is the corporate assets in the bank and minutes that prove it was a corporate decision. What's new about it? Why is it creating a form of action?

Justice Alito: Won't your arguments about aiding and abetting and extraterritoriality all lead to essentially the same result as holding that a domestic corporation cannot be sued under the ATS? Corporations always act through natural persons, so if a corporation can't aid and abet, there -- there will be only a sliver of activity where they could be responsible under respondeat superior, isn't that true?

Justice Amy Coney Barrett:  You say that the focus of the tort should be the primary conduct, so, here, what was happening in Cote d'Ivoire, rather than the aiding and abetting, which you characterize as secondary. But why should that be so? I mean, let's imagine you have a U.S. corporation or even a U.S. individual that is making plans to facilitate the use of child slaves, you know, making phone calls, sending money specifically for that purpose, writing e-mails to that effect.Why isn't that conduct that occurs in the United States something that touches and concerns, you know, or should be the focus of conduct, however you want to state the test?

Finally, here are some of the tough questions posed to counsel for the Respondents:

Justice Thomas: The TVPA [Trafficking Victims Protection Act] seems to suggest that Congress does not see the ATS the way you do. Obviously, there, you don't have corporate liability and you don't have aiding and abetting liability. So why shouldn't we take that as an indication that Congress sought limitations on -- on the ATS jurisdiction?

Justice Breyer: Assume that there is corporate liability for domestic corporations. Assume that there is aiding and abetting liability. Now what counts as aiding and abetting for purposes of this statute? When I read through your complaint, it seemed to me that all or virtually all of your complaint amount to doing business with these people.They help pay for the farm. And that's about it.And they knowingly do it. Well, unfortunately, child labor, it's terrible, but it exists throughout the world in many, many places. And if we take this as the norm, particularly when Congress is now working in the area, that will mean throughout the world this is the norm. And I don't know, but I have concern that treating this allegation, the six that you make here, as aiding and abetting falling within that term for purposes of this statute, if other nations do the same, and we do the same, could have very, very significant effects. I'm just saying I'm worried about that.

Justice Alito: So, after 15 years, is it too much to ask that you allege specifically that the -- the defendants involved -- the defendants who are before us here specifically knew that forced child labor was being used on the farms or farm cooperatives with which they did business? Is that too much to ask?

 

To be fair, Nestle and Cargill have worked to remedy these issues. Nestle’s 2019 Shared Values Report tracks its commitments to individuals and families, communities, and the planet to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Among other things, the report highlights Nestle's work to reduce human rights abuses and links to its December 2019 report on child labor and cocoa farms. The company touts its progress but admits it has a long way to go. Cargill has a separate Cocoa Sustainability Progress Report, which describes its 2012 Cargill Cocoa Promise for capacity building and a more transparent supply chain. But is it enough?

In any event, we won’t know what the Court decides until Spring. In the meantime, despite the best efforts of the companies, almost two million children still work in the cocoa harvesting business and most aren’t kidnapped anymore. They need the work. The local governments have taken notice in part due to the terrible publicity from the media. Allegedly, however, Hershey and Mars are trying to avoid the $400 a ton premium that the West African governments are levying to provide more funding for the farmers. The companies deny these allegations. But there’s now a chocolate war. This means your chocolate may get more expensive, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

How will this all shake out? There’s a chance that the Court could find for the Respondents. More likely, though advocates will focus on convincing Congress to expand the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to include corporations. Some NGOs are already talking about increasing consumer awareness and spurring boycotts. Perhaps, advocates will put pressure on the Biden administration to ban the import on chocolate harvested with child labor, similar to the ban on some products produced by Uighurs in China.I expect that there will be a lot of lobbying at the state and federal level to deal with the larger issue of whether corporations that have some of the rights of natural persons should also have the responsibilities. Boards and companies should get prepared. In the meantime, do you plan to give up chocolate?

December 4, 2020 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Friday non-post

Today is my birthday and the last thing I want to do is blog or work. So I'm off to take care of myself in this beautiful Florida sunshine. Tomorrow, I'm going to delve into these materials and all of the briefs about the Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe I and Cargill Inc. v. Doe I cases that the Supreme Court will hear on December 1. These cases will revisit the applicability of the Alien Tort Statute and extraterritoriality. This case could change the game in terms of corporate responsibility for human rights abuses abroad. Having spent the past three days listening to the virtual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, I know that the issue is ripe for resolution. I'll post about it in two weeks. In the meantime, have a safe, healthy, and Happy Thanksgiving. 

November 20, 2020 in Human Rights, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 23, 2020

When Wall Street Talks, Does Washington Listen?

It’s hard to believe that the US will have an election in less than two weeks. Three years ago, a month after President Trump took office, I posted about CEOs commenting on his executive order barring people from certain countries from entering the United States. Some branded the executive order a “Muslim travel ban” and others questioned whether the CEOs should have entered into the political fray at all. Some opined that speaking out on these issues detracted from the CEOs’ mission of maximizing shareholder value. But I saw it as a business decision - - these CEOs, particularly in the tech sector, depended on the skills and expertise of foreign workers.

That was 2017. In 2018, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, told the largest companies in the world that “to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society…Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders.” Fink’s annual letter to CEOs carries weight; BlackRock had almost six trillion dollars in assets under management in 2018, and when Fink talks, Wall Street listens. Perhaps emboldened by the BlackRock letter, one year later, 181 CEOs signed on to the Business Roundtable's Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which “modernized” its position on the shareholder maximization norm. The BRT CEOs promised to invest in employees, deal ethically and fairly with suppliers, and embrace sustainable business practices. Many observers, however, believed that the Business Roundtable statement was all talk and no action. To see how some of the signatories have done on their commitments as of last week, see here.

Then came 2020, a year like no other. The United States is now facing a global pandemic, mass unemployment, a climate change crisis, social unrest, and of course an election. During the Summer of 2020, several CEOs made public statements on behalf of themselves and their companies about racial unrest, with some going as far as to proclaim, “Black Lives Matter.” I questioned these motives in a post I called “"Wokewashing and the Board." While I admired companies that made a sincere public statement about racial justice and had a real commitment to look inward, I was skeptical about firms that merely made statements for publicity points. I wondered, in that post, about companies rushing to implement diversity training, retain consultants, and appoint board members to either curry favor with the public or avoid the shareholder derivative suits facing Oracle, Facebook, and Qualcomm. How well had they thought it out? Meanwhile, I noted that my colleagues who have conducted diversity training and employee engagement projects for years were so busy that they were farming out work to each other. Now the phones aren’t ringing as much, and when they are ringing, it’s often to cancel or postpone training.

Why? Last month, President Trump issued the Executive Order on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping. As the President explained:

today . . .  many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans ... Therefore, it shall be the policy of the United States not to promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce or in the Uniformed Services, and not to allow grant funds to be used for these purposes. In addition, Federal contractors will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees.

The Order then provides a hotline process for employees to raise concerns about their training. Whether you agree with the statements in the Order or not -- and I recommend that you read it -- it had a huge and immediate effect. The federal government is the largest procurer of goods and services in the world. This Order applies to federal contractors and subcontractors. Some of those same companies have mandates from state law to actually conduct training on sexual harassment. Often companies need to show proof of policies and training to mount an affirmative defense to discrimination claims. More important, while reasonable people can disagree about the types and content of diversity training, there is no doubt that employees often need training on how to deal with each other respectfully in the workplace. (For a thought-provoking take on a board’s duty to monitor diversity  training by co-blogger Stefan Padfield, click here.)

Perhaps because of the federal government’s buying power, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce felt compelled to act. On October 15th, the Chamber and 150 organizations wrote a letter to the President stating:

As currently written, we believe the E.O. will create confusion and uncertainty, lead to non-meritorious investigations, and hinder the ability of employers to implement critical programs to promote diversity and combat discrimination in the workplace. We urge you to withdraw the Executive Order and work with the business and nonprofit communities on an approach that would support appropriate workplace training programs ...  there is a great deal of subjectivity around how certain content would be perceived by different individuals. For example, the definition of “divisive concepts” creates many gray areas and will likely result in multiple different interpretations. Because the ultimate threat of debarment is a possible consequence, we have heard from some companies that they are suspending all D&I training.  This outcome is contrary to the E.O.’s stated purpose, but an understandable reaction given companies’ lack of clear guidance. Thus, the E.O. is already having a broadly chilling effect on legitimate and valuable D&I training companies use to foster inclusive workplaces, help with talent recruitment, and remain competitive in a country with a wide range of different cultures. … Such an approach effectively creates two sets of rules, one for those companies that do business with the government and another for those that do not. Federal contractors should be left to manage their workforces and workplaces with a minimum amount of interference so long as they are compliant with the law.

It’s rare for the Chamber to make such a statement, but it was bold and appropriate. Many of the Business Roundtable signatories are also members of the U.S. Chamber, and on the same day, the BRT issued its own statement committing to programs to advance racial equity and justice. BRT Chair and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon observed,  “the racial inequities that exist for many Black Americans and people of color are real and deeply rooted . .  These longstanding systemic challenges have too often prevented access to the benefits of economic growth and mobility for too many, and a broad and diverse group of Americans is demanding change. It is our employees, customers and communities who are calling for change, and we are listening – and most importantly – we are taking action.” Now that's a stakeholder maximization statement if I ever heard one.

Those who thought that some CEOs went too far in protesting the Muslim ban, may be even more shocked by the BRT’s statements about the police. The BRT also has a subcommittee to address racial justice issues and noted that “For Business Roundtable CEOs, this agenda is an important step in addressing barriers to equity and justice . . . This summer we took on the urgent need for policing reform. We called on Congress to adopt higher federal standards for policing, to track whether police departments and officers have histories of misconduct, and to adopt measures to hold abusive officers accountable. Now, with announcement of this broader agenda, CEOs are supporting policies and undertaking initiatives to address several other systems that contribute to large and growing disparities.”

Now that stakeholders have seen so many of these social statements, they have asked for more. Last week, a group of executives from the Leadership Now Project issued a statement supporting free and fair elections. However, as Bennett Freeman, former Calvert executive and Clinton cabinet member noted, no Fortune 500 CEOs have signed on to that statement. Yesterday, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) sent a letter to 200 CEOs, including some members of the BRT asking for their support. ICCR asked that they endorse:

  1. Active support for free and fair elections
  2. A call for a thorough and complete counting of all ballots
  3. A call for all states to ensure a fair election
  4. A condemnation of any tactics that could be construed as voter intimidation
  5. Assurance that, should the incumbent Administration lose the election, there will be a peaceful transfer of power
  6. Ensure that lobbying activities and political donations support the above

Is this a pipe dream? Do CEOs really want to stick their necks out in a tacit criticism of the current president’s equivocal statements about his post-election plans? Now that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has spoken about the importance of respect for the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power, perhaps more executives will make public statements. But should they? On the one hand, the markets need stability. Perhaps Dimon was actually really focused on shareholder maximization after all. Nonetheless, Freeman and others have called for a Twitter campaign to urge more CEOs to speak out. My next post will be up on the Friday after the election and I’ll report back about the success of the hashtag activism effort. In the meantime, stay tuned and stay safe.

October 23, 2020 in Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 18, 2020

Where Were The Gatekeepers Pt 2- Social Media's Social Dilemma

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the role of compliance officers and general counsel working for Big Pharma in Where Were the Gatekeepers- Part 1. As a former compliance officer and deputy general counsel, I wondered how and if those in-house sentinels were raising alarm bells about safety concerns related to rushing a COVID-19 vaccine to the public. Now that I’ve watched the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” I’m wondering the same thing about the lawyers and compliance professionals working for the social media companies.

The documentary features some of the engineers and executives behind the massive success of Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms. Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, is the star of the documentary and the main whistleblower. He raised concerns to 60 Minutes in 2017 and millions have watched his TED Talk.  He also testified before Congress in 2019 about how social media companies use algorithms and artificial intelligence to manipulate behavior. Human rights organizations have accused social media platforms of facilitating human rights abuses. Facebook and others have paid billions in fines for privacy violations.  Advertisers boycotted over Facebook and hate speech. But nothing has slowed their growth.

The documentary explicitly links the rising rate of youth depression, suicide, and risk taking behavior to social media’s disproportionate influence. Most of my friends who have watched it have already decreased their screen time or at least have become more conscious of it. Maybe they are taking a cue from those who work for these companies but don’t allow their young children to have any screen time. Hmmm … 

I’ve watched the documentary twice. Here are some of the more memorable quotes:

If you’re not paying for the product, then you’re the product.”

“They sell certainty that someone will see your advertisement.” 

“It’s not our data that’s being sold. They are building models to predict our actions based on the click, what emotions trigger you, what videos you will watch.” 

“Algorithms are opinions embedded in code.”

”It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in our own behavior and perception that is the product.”

“Social media is a drug.”

”There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”

”Social media is a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.”

”The very meaning of culture is manipulation.”

“Social media isn’t a tool waiting to be used. It has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them.”

“These services are killing people and causing people to kill themselves.”

“When you go to Google and type in “climate change is,” you will get a different result based on where you live … that’s a function of … the particular things Google knows about your interests.”

“It’s 2.7 billion Truman Show. Each person has their own reality, their own facts.” 

“It worries me that an algorithm I worked on is increasing polarization in society.”

“Fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than real news.”

“People have no idea what is true and now it’s a matter of life and death.”

“Social media amplifies exponential gossip and exponential hearsay to the point that we don’t know what’s true no matter what issue we care about.”

“If you want to control the operation of a country, there’s never been a better tool than Facebook.”

"The Russians didn't hack Facebook. What they did was use the tools Facebook created for legitimate advertisers and legitimate users, and they applied it to a nefarious purpose." 

“What [am I] most worried about? In the short term horizon? Civil War.”

“How do you wake up from the matrix when you don’t know you’re in the matrix”?

“You could shut down the service and destroy . . . $20 billion in shareholder value and get sued, but you can’t in practice put the genie back in the model.”

“We need to accept that it’s ok for companies to be focused on making money but  it’s not ok when there’s no regulation, no rules, and no competition and companies are acting as de facto governments and then saying ‘we can regulate ourselves.’ “

“There’s no fiscal reason for these companies to change.”

This brings me back to the beginning of my post. We’ve heard from former investors, engineers, and algorithm magicians from these companies, but where were and are the gatekeepers? What were they doing to sound the alarm?  But maybe I’m asking the wrong question. As Ann Lipton’s provocative post on Doyle, Watson, and the Purpose of the Corporation notes, “Are you looking at things from outside the corporation, in terms of structuring our overall legal and societal institutions?  Or are you looking at things from inside the corporation, in terms of how corporate managers should understand their jobs and their own roles?”

If you’re a board member or C-Suite executive of a social media company, you have to ask yourself, what if hate speech, fake news, polarization, and addiction to your product are actually profitable? What if perpetuating rumors that maximize shareholder value is the right decision? Why would you change a business model that works for the shareholders even if it doesn’t work for the rest of society? If social media is like a drug, it’s up to parents to instill the right values in their children. I get it. But what about the lawyers and the people in charge of establishing, promoting, and maintaining an ethical culture? To be clear, I don’t mean in any way to impugn the integrity of lawyers and compliance professionals who work for social media companies. I have met several at business and human rights events and privacy conferences who take the power of the tech industry very seriously and advocate for change.

The social media companies have a dilemma. Compliance officers talk about “tone at the top,” “mood in the middle,” and the “buzz at the bottom.” Everyone in the organization has to believe in the ethical mandate as laid out and modeled by leadership. Indeed, CEOs typically sign off on warm, fuzzy statements about ethical behavior in the beginning of the Code of Conduct. I’ve drafted quite a few and looked at hundreds more.  Notably, Facebook’s Code of Conduct, updated just a few weeks ago, has no statement of principle from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and seems very lawyerlike. Perhaps there’s a more robust version that employees can access where Zuckerberg extols company values. Twitter’s code is slightly better and touches more on ethical culture. Google’s Code states, “Our products, features, and services should make Google more useful for all our users. We have many different types of users, from individuals to large businesses, but one guiding principle: “Is what we are offering useful?”’ My question is “useful” to whom? I use Google several times a day, but now I have to worry about what Google chooses to show me. What's my personal algorithm? I’ve been off of Facebook and Instagram since January 2020 and I have no plans to go back.

Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman uttered the famous statement, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” The social media companies have written the rules of the game. There is no competition. Now that the “Social Dilemma” is out, there really isn’t any more deception or fraud.

Do the social media companies actually have a social responsibility to do better? In 2012,  Facebook’s S-1 proclaimed that the company’s mission was to “make the world more open and connected.” Facebook’s current Sustainability Page claims that, “At Facebook, our mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Why is it, then that in 2020, people seem more disconnected than ever even though they are tethered to their devices while awake and have them in reach while asleep? Facebook’s sustainability strategy appears to be centered around climate change and supply chain issues, important to be sure. But is it doing all that it can for the sustainability of society? Does it have to? I have no answer for that. All I can say is that you should watch the documentary and judge for yourself.

September 18, 2020 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Family, Film, Human Rights, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Psychology, Shareholders, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"Reopening Justly or Just Reopening?"

Earlier today (July 14), Fordham University hosted a webinar entitled Reopening Justly or Just Reopening: Catholic Social Teaching, Universities & COVID-19.   

Speakers on the topic of the ethics of reopening schools include the following theology professors: 

Christine Firer Hinze discussed Catholic Social Thought, human dignity, and solidarity. She reminded us that reopening universities is literally a question of life and death, but is also a question of livelihood. Gerald Beyer stressed looking to the the latest science and considering the common good (the flourishing of all). Craig Ford commented on the reality that some universities may be facing financial collapse, that the pandemic is likely to be with us for a long while, and that there are no perfect solutions. Ford also suggested a focus on protecting those who are most vulnerable. Kate Ward talked about moral injury, lamentation, and redemption. A question and answer period --- including on the topics of racial justice, transparency, shared sacrifices and mental health --- followed opening remarks.

July 14, 2020 in Business School, Current Affairs, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Human Rights, Management, Religion, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 12, 2020

Padfield on "the Omnipresent Specter of Political Bias" in Corporate Decision-Making (and 3 other papers)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Did A Child Die to Make Your Smartphone, Tablet, Laptop, or Car?

Happy holidays! Billions of people around the world are celebrating Christmas or Hanukah right now. Perhaps you’re even reading this post on a brand new Apple Ipad, a Microsoft Surface, or a Dell Computer. Maybe you found this post via a Google search. If you use a product manufactured by any of those companies or drive a Tesla, then this post is for you. Last week, a nonprofit organization filed the first lawsuit against the world’s biggest tech companies alleging that they are complicit in child trafficking and deaths in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dodd-Frank §1502 and the upcoming EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, which goes into effect in 2021, both require companies to disclose the efforts they have made to track and trace "conflict minerals" -- tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold from the DRC and surrounding countries. DRC is one of the poorest nations in the world per capita but has an estimated $25 trillion in mineral reserves (including 65% of the world's cobalt). Armed militia use rape and violence as a weapon of war in part so that they control the mineral wealth. The EU and US regulators believe that consumers might make different purchasing decisions if they  knew whether companies source their minerals ethically. The EU legislation, notably, does not limit the geography to the DRC, but instead focuses on conflict zones around the world.

If you’ve read my posts before, then you know that I have written repeatedly about the DRC and conflict minerals. After visiting DRC for a research trip in 2011, I wrote a law review article and co-filed an amicus brief during the §1502 litigation arguing that the law would not help people on the ground. I have also blogged here about legislation to end the rulehere about the EU's version of the rule, and here about the differences between the EU and US rule. Because of the law and pressure from activists and socially-responsible investors, companies, including the defendants, have filed disclosures, joined voluntary task forces to clean up supply chains, and responded to shareholder proposals regarding conflict minerals for years. I will have more on those initiatives in my next post. Interestingly, cobalt, the subject of the new litigation, is not a “conflict mineral” under either the U.S. or E.U. regulation, although, based on the rationale behind enacting Dodd-Frank §1502, perhaps it should have been.  Nonetheless, in all of my research, I never came across any legislative history or materials discussing why cobalt was excluded.

The litigation makes some startling claims, but having been to the DRC, I’m not surprised. I’ve seen children who should have been in school, but could not afford to attend, digging for minerals with shovels and panning for gold in rivers. Although I was not allowed in the mines during my visit because of a massacre in the village the night before, I could still see child laborers on the side of the road mining. If you think mining is dangerous here in the U.S., imagine what it’s like in a poor country with a corrupt government dependent on income from multinationals.

The seventy-nine page class action Complaint was filed filed in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of thirteen children claiming: (1) a violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; (2) unjust enrichment; (3) negligent supervision; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress. I’ve listed some excerpts from the Complaint below (hyperlinks added):

Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla are knowingly benefiting from and providing substantial support to this “artisanal” mining system in the DRC. Defendants know and have known for a significant period of time the reality that DRC’s cobalt mining sector is dependent upon children, with males performing the most hazardous work in the primitive cobalt mines, including tunnel digging. These boys are working under stone age conditions for paltry wages and at immense personal risk to provide cobalt that is essential to the so-called “high tech” sector, dominated by Defendants and other companies. For the avoidance of doubt, every smartphone, tablet, laptop, electric vehicle, or other device containing a lithium-ion rechargeable battery requires cobalt in order to recharge. Put simply, the hundreds of billions of dollars generated by the Defendants each year would not be possible without cobalt mined in the DRC….

Plaintiffs herein are representative of the child cobalt miners, some as young as six years of age, who work in exceedingly harsh, hazardous, and toxic conditions that are on the extreme end of “the worst forms of child labor” prohibited by ILO Convention No. 182. Some of the child miners are also trafficked. Plaintiffs and the other child miners producing cobalt for Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla typically earn 2-3 U.S. dollars per day and, remarkably, in many cases even less than that, as they perform backbreaking and hazardous work that will likely kill or maim them. Based on indisputable research, cobalt mined in the DRC is listed on the U.S. Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau’s List of Goods Produced with Forced and Child Labor.

When I mentioned above that I wasn’t surprised about the allegations, I mean that I wasn’t surprised that the injuries and deaths occur based on what I saw during my visit to DRC. I am surprised that companies that must perform due diligence in their supply chains for conflict minerals don’t perform the same kind of due diligence in the cobalt mines. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised at all, given how many companies have stated that they cannot be sure of the origins of their minerals. In my next post, I will discuss what the companies say they are doing, what they are actually doing, and how the market has reacted to the litigation. What I do know for sure is that the Apple store at the mall nearest to me was so crowded that people could not get in. The mall also has a Tesla showroom and people were gearing up for test drives. Does that mean that consumers are not aware of the allegations? Or does that mean that they don’t care?  I’ll discuss that in the next post as well.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season.

December 24, 2019 in Compliance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Litigation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain to Benefit Business and Society

Have you ever wanted to learn the basics about blockchain? Do you think it's all hype and a passing fad? Whatever your view, take a look at my new article, Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain to Benefit Business and Society, co-authored with Rachel Epstein, counsel at Hedera Hashgraph.  I became interested in blockchain a year ago because I immediately saw potential use cases in supply chain, compliance, and corporate governance. I met Rachel at a Humanitarian Blockchain Summit and although I had already started the article, her practical experience in the field added balance, perspective, and nuance. 

The abstract is below:

Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management, and to assist governments and businesses in mitigating human rights impacts. This Article will discuss how state and non-state actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency. Part I will provide an overview of blockchain technology. Part II will briefly describe how public and private actors use blockchain today to track food, address land grabs, protect refugee identity rights, combat bribery and corruption, eliminate voter fraud, and facilitate financial transactions for those without access to banks. Part III will discuss key corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility initiatives that currently utilize blockchain or are exploring the possibilities for shareholder communications, internal audit, and cyber security. Part IV will delve into the business and human rights landscape and examine how blockchain can facilitate compliance. Specifically, we will focus on one of the more promising uses of distributed ledger technology -- eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena thereby satisfying various mandatory disclosure regimes and shareholder requests. Part V will pose questions that board members should ask when considering adopting the technology and will recommend that governments, rating agencies, sustainable stock exchanges, and institutional investors provide incentives for companies to invest in the technology, when appropriate. Given the increasing widespread use of the technology by both state and non-state actors and the potential disruptive capabilities, we conclude that firms that do not explore blockchain’s impact risk obsolescence or increased regulation.

Things change so quickly in this space. Some of the information in the article is already outdated and some of the initiatives have expanded. To keep up, you may want to subscribe to newsletters such as Hunton, Andrews, Kurth's Blockchain Legal Resource. For more general information on blockchain, see my post from last year, where I list some of the videos that I watched to become literate on the topic. For additional resources, see here and here

If you are interested specifically in government use cases, consider joining the Government Blockchain Association. On September 14th and 15th,  the GBA is holding its Fall 2019 Symposium, “The Future of Money, Governance and the Law,” in Arlington, Virginia. Speakers will include a chief economist from the World Bank and banking, political, legal, regulatory, defense, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals from around the world.  This event is sponsored by the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis (CINA) Center, and the Government Blockchain Association (GBA). Organizers expect over 300 government, industry and academic leaders on the Arlington Campus of George Mason University, either in person or virtually. To find out more about the event go to: http://bit.ly/FoMGL-914.

Blockchain is complex and it's easy to get overwhelmed. It's not the answer to everything, but I will continue my focus on the compliance, governance, and human rights implications, particularly for Dodd-Frank and EU conflict minerals due diligence and disclosure. As lawyers, judges, and law students, we need to educate ourselves so that we can provide solid advice to legislators and business people who can easily make things worse by, for example, drafting laws that do not make sense and developing smart contracts with so many loopholes that they cause jurisdictional and enforcement nightmares.

Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding blockchain, I'm particularly proud of this article and would not have been able to do it without my co-author, Rachel, my fantastic research assistants Jordan Suarez, Natalia Jaramillo, and Lauren Miller from the University of Miami School of Law, and the student editors at the Tennessee Journal of Business Law. If you have questions or please post them below or reach out to me at mweldon@law.miami.edu. 

 

 

September 7, 2019 in Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Law Reviews, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 23, 2019

UN Forum on Business and Human Rights- Nov. 25-27. Registration Open

I had planned to write about the Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation signed by 200 top CEOs. If you read this blog, you've likely read the coverage and the varying opinions. I'm still reading the various blog posts, statements by NGOs, and 10-Ks of some of the largest companies so that I can gather my thoughts. In the meantime, many of these same companies  will be at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights touting their records. I've been to the Forum several times, and it's worth the trip. If you're interested in joining over 2,000 people, including representatives from many of the signatories of the Statement, see below. You can register here:

The UN annual Forum on Business and Human Rights is the global platform for stock-taking and lesson-sharing on efforts to move the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights from paper to practice. As the world’s foremost gathering in this area, it provides a unique space for dialogue between governments, business, civil society, affected groups and international organizations on trends, challenges and good practices in preventing and addressing business-related human rights impacts. The first Forum was held in 2012. It attracts more than 2,000 experts, practitioners and leaders for three days of an action- and solution-oriented dialogue.The Forum was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011  “to discuss trends and challenges in the implementation of the Guiding Principles and promote dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights, including challenges faced in particular sectors, operational environments or in relation to specific rights or groups, as well as identifying good practices” (resolution 17/4, paragraph 12).

The Forum addresses all three pillars of the Guiding Principles:

    • The State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation and adjudication;
    • The corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts with which a business is involved; and
    • The need for access to effective remedy for rights-holders when abuse has occurred, through both judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms

The Forum is guided and chaired by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and organized by its Secretariat at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

If you have any questions about the value of attending the Forum, feel free to reach out to me at mweldon@law.miami.edu. 

August 23, 2019 in Conferences, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon, Shareholders, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Is Boycotting a Bust?

     Last week, I led a “legal hack” for some of the first year students during orientation. Each participating professor spoke for ten minutes on a topic of our choice and then answered questions for ten minutes. I picked business and human rights, my passion. I titled my brief lecture, “Are you using a product made by slaves, and if you are, can you do anything about it”?

     In my ten minutes, I introduced the problem of global slavery; touched on the false and deceptive trade practices  litigation levied against companies; described the role of shareholder activists and socially responsible investors in pressuring companies to clean up supply chains; raised doubts about the effectiveness of some of the disclosure regimes in the US, EU, and Australia; questioned the efficacy of conscious consumerism; and mentioned blockchain as a potential tool for provenance of goods. Yes. In ten minutes. 

     During the actual hack later in the afternoon, I had a bit more time to flesh out the problem. I developed a case study around the Rana Plaza disaster in which a building collapse in Bangladesh killed over 1,000 garment workers six years ago. Students brainstormed solutions to the problems I posed with the help of upperclassmen as student facilitators and community stakeholders with subject matter expertise. At the end of the two-hour brainstorming session, the students presented their solutions to me.  

     We delved deeper into my subject matter as I asked my student hackers to play one of four roles: a US CEO of a company with a well-publicized CSR policy deciding whether to stay in Bangladesh or source from a country with a better human rights record; a US Presidential candidate commenting on both a potential binding treaty on business and human rights and a proposed federal mandatory due diligence regime in supply chains; a trade union representative in Bangladesh prioritizing recommendations and demands to EU and US companies; and a social media influencer with over 100 million followers who intended to use his platform to help an NGO raise awareness.

     This exercise was identical to an exercise I did in March in Pakistan with 100 business leaders, students, lawyers, government officials, and members of civil society as part of an ABA Rule of Law Initiative. The only difference was that I asked Pakistanis to represent the Bangladesh government and I asked the US students to represent a political candidate. 

     In both Pakistan and Miami, the participants had to view the labor issues in the supply chain from a multistakeholder perspective. Interestingly, in both Pakistan and Miami, the participants playing the social media influencer rejected the idea of a boycott. Even though multiple groups played this role in both places, each group believed that seeking a boycott of companies that used unsafe Bangladeshi factories would cause more harm than good. 

     Of note, the Miami Law students did their hack during the call for a boycott of Soul Cycle due to Steve Ross’ decision to hold a fundraiser for President Trump. In my unscientific poll, three out of three students who patronized Soul Cycle refused to boycott. When it came to the fictionalized case study, all groups raised concerns that a boycott could hurt garment workers in Bangladesh and retail workers in the US and EU. Some considered a “buycott” to support brands with stronger human rights records. 

     I’ve written before about my skepticism about long term boycotts, especially those led by millennials. Some of these same students echoed my concerns about their own lack of sustained commitment on proposed boycotts in the past. The “winning” hack- #DoBetterBangladesh was a multipronged strategy to educate consumers, adopt best practices of successful campaigns such as the Imokalee

farm workers, and form acoalition with other influencers to encourage consumer donations to reputable NGOs in Bangladesh. After seeing what these student groups could do in just two hours, I can’t wait to see what they can accomplish after three years of law school. 

August 16, 2019 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, International Business, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Shareholders, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)