Reckoning: A Dialogue About Racism, Antiracists, and Business & Human Rights
Washington International Law Journal, Vol. 30 (2021)
84 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 22, 2021
Video of George Floyd’s death sparked global demonstrations and prompted individuals, communities and institutions to grapple with their own roles in embedding and perpetuating racist structures. The raison d’être of Business and Human Rights (BHR) is to tackle structural corporate impediments to the universal realization of human rights. Yet, racism, one of the most obvious of such barriers, has been a blind spot for BHR. While the field has contended with gender inequality, there have only been tokenistic nods to intersectional harms caused by business activities. The failure to address racism seriously undermines both the promise of BHR generally and specifically the recognized need to redress intersectional harms experienced by women from racialized backgrounds. In this article, three established BHR scholars enter into a dialogue on racism in BHR’s theory and practice. The article is not aimed at providing definitive answers, but instead at asking the questions necessary for understanding how BHR embeds, or may combat, racism. By engaging in a dialogic inquiry, the authors are able to highlight, examine, and analyze different approaches to these issues. The result is both an opening salvo on the intersection of critical race theory and BHR and an identifiable research agenda for future scholarship in the area.
The article proceeds in six substantive parts. Part I explains our choice of a dialogic methodology while Part II situates the inquiry in literature on structures of race and racism, critical race theory in law, and BHR. The dialogue begins in Part III with an interrogation of the terms “racist” and “antiracist” before Part IV contemplates whether BHR is racist, antiracist, or a tool that can be used to pursue either agenda. Because BHR is built on, and embedded with, capitalist theory, we examine capitalism’s racist foundations and question whether BHR can extricate itself from that origin. We then engage with the opposite end of the spectrum; what we call “Black Lives Marketing,” in Part V. Businesses may brand and market themselves as antiracist without ever undertaking the internal structural reforms necessary to be antiracist. We consider the demands BHR places on businesses to both adopt and to use their leverage to affect real change. The dialogue concludes in Part VI with reflections on the personal and professional impact of confronting racism within our fields of expertise. We conclude the article by noting that the dialogic methodology transformed the nature of the article, bringing a depth to our discussion that would not have been achieved otherwise.
Keywords: Racism, Anti-racism, human rights, business, BHR, critical race theory, capitalism
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation