Easing ‘The Burden of the Brutalized’: Applying Bystander Intervention Training to Corporate Conduct

35 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2018 Last revised: 12 Dec 2018

See all articles by Jena Martin

Jena Martin

West Virginia University - College of Law

Date Written: March 6, 2018


The last few years have borne witness to a shift regarding how to address issues of oppression and social injustice. Across many different advocacy points - from police brutality to sexual violence - there seems to be a consensus that simply engaging the oppressor or the victim is not enough to affect real social change. The consensus itself is not new: it has been at the heart of many social justice movements over the years. However, what is new is the explicit evocation of the bystander within this framework. Too often, in conversations on conflicts generally (and negative human rights impact specifically), bystanders have been relegated to the sidelines, with no defined, specific role to play and no discussion within the larger narrative. Now, however, -- through the use of bystander intervention training -- these actors are taking on a more prominent role.

In previous articles, I have stated that the rhetoric and posture that transnational corporations (TNCs) maintain vis-à-vis human rights impacts is that of a bystander. Frequently, when human rights abuses occur, TNCs find themselves in the position of having to acknowledge their presence in the area of the underlying conflict, while profusely maintaining that none of their actions caused the harm against the community. Building off this prior work, this article seeks to answer the following question: are there lessons that can be learned from bystander intervention training in other contexts, that can be used for the benefits of TNCs within the field of business and human rights? I conclude that what is lacking in the current discourse on corporate policies regarding addressing negative human rights impacts is an articulation regarding when, and under what circumstances, it is appropriate for corporations to intervene in negative human rights disputes. This goes beyond the current proposals for human rights due diligence frameworks in that, rather than merely undergoing an assessment and then reporting this information out (as is required by most current legal frameworks that address business and human rights reporting) this would help corporations – informed by a bystander intervention framework – to engage with either the oppressor or the oppressed in a way that directly minimizes human rights abuses.

Keywords: business, human rights, bystander intervention training

JEL Classification: K22, K39

Suggested Citation

Martin, Jena, Easing ‘The Burden of the Brutalized’: Applying Bystander Intervention Training to Corporate Conduct (March 6, 2018). WVU College of Law Research Paper No. 2018-014, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3135490 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3135490

Jena Martin (Contact Author)

West Virginia University - College of Law ( email )

101 Law School Drive
Morgantown, WV West Virginia 26506
United States

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