Harvard Law School Human Rights Program hosts CIW for webinar on business and human rights!

Check out highlights from a remarkable conversation on the groundbreaking, 10-year study detailing the failure of the dominant Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) model and lifting up the Fair Food Program as the way forward for protecting human rights in corporate supply chains… 

Last week, we reported on the release of an unprecedented new study that is shaking up the world of business and human rights.  The report, titled “Not Fit for Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights, and Global Governance,” was the academic equivalent of the children’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – a thoroughgoing deconstruction of the failed, decades-long experiment in corporate-led human rights protections known as the “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) model.  Here is the summary of last week’s post:


An extraordinary report released last week — the product of a decade of study and analysis of 40 international standard-setting programs, conducted by the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (“MSI Integrity”)— concluded that the Multi-stakeholder Initiative model, the dominant paradigm for corporate social responsibility since the 1990s, has resoundingly failed at its primary objective: protecting human rights in global supply chains.  To meet the still urgent need for effective human rights protections, the report calls for approaches that situate workers and communities “at the center of decision-making” and that endow those “rights holders” with real power to enforce their own rights.  The study points to the Fair Food Program in the food industry, and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model more broadly, as leading examples of proven — and demonstrably superior — alternatives to the failed MSI model.

The report was published by MSI Integrity, a non-profit organization incubated a decade ago at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and “dedicated to understanding the human rights impact and value of voluntary multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) that address business and human rights.”  The study looked at a wide range of MSIs in multiple sectors — including the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), Fair Trade International, and the Rainforest Alliance in the food industry — and concluded that their lack of effective mechanisms “to center the needs, desires, or voices of rights holders,” and failure to address “the power imbalances that drive abuse,” prevented the voluntary, corporate-led social responsibility programs from realizing their claims of effective human rights protection.   Among other specific deficits, the study found serious shortcomings in the audit processes of the MSIs investigated, a lack of effective grievance mechanisms and of meaningful consequences for violations, as well as the failure to make public the suspension of suppliers determined to be out of compliance.

In other words, the study concluded that all social responsibility programs are not created equal — that there are real differences between the dominant, corporate-led paradigm of social responsibility and the WSR model, differences not only of philosophy and of mechanisms, but of outcomes, as well.  Indeed, MSI Integrity’s groundbreaking research confirms what tens of thousands of farmworkers, and counting, know from lived experience: The Fair Food Program’s unique mix of worker-driven monitoring mechanisms and market consequences for human rights violations is, in fact, more effective than other competing programs at addressing, and ending, long-standing abuses in corporate supply chains.

This week, Harvard University hosted a virtual conversation among the Executive Director of MSI Integrity (the Harvard Law School-incubated non-profit that carried out the study over the past decade and authored the report), the CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez, and representatives of two other successful alternatives to the CSR model, Equal Exchange and the Obran Cooperative.  The webinar was titled “Beyond Business-as-Usual: Lessons from workers, communities and the failed experiment of multi-stakeholder initiatives,” and you can check out highlights from the conversation in the video at the top of this post, or watch the webinar in its entirety here.

The MSI Integrity study marks what should be a pivotal moment in the thirty-year history of efforts to protect human rights in global supply chains, a long-overdue reckoning of the abysmal failure of the dominant model promoted by corporations and a moment for a true paradigm shift in approach, one that places workers and communities themselves not just at the table, but at the head of the table, in efforts to protect their own rights.  We will continue to follow and report on the impact of this groundbreaking study in the months ahead.