Business, Human Rights and the Environment Research Group

Our Research

1. Modern Slavery, Human Rights and Public Procurement

What we do

Public procurement is the purchase by the public sector of the goods and services it needs to carry out its functions Worldwide, government buying has a value  of approximately €1000 billion per year and it comprises, for instance, on average 12% GDP in OECD countries. This means that it accounts for a significant proportion of the overall global  economy. The ‘state duty to protect’ under Pillar  I  of the  UN  Framework on Business  and  Human  Rights calls for  states  to fulfil  their  obligations and  address their potential impacts on human rights as an economic actor, including in the area of public procurement. Therefore public sector buying has an  essential  role to  play  in  facilitating  States’ fulfilment  of their duties to protect, respect, and fulfil human rights. As “mega-consumers,” governments have the purchasing power to set standards that can shift markets towards sustainable  production, to  exercise  leverage over  suppliers towards  this goal –and  to  lead by  example  in introducing  human  rights into  supply  chain management. In the past, however, little consideration has been given to the human rights impacts of the central state and other public bodies in terms of their role as a consumer, by comparison, for instance, to that focused on transnational corporations via their supply chains. BHRE works closely with public buyers to address this policy and accountability gap, developing best practices in public procurement with regard to human rights.

With our partners we have produced a series of resources, including Guidance on Protection Human Rights in Supply Chain, Guides on how to report under the Modern Slavery Act, and eLearning suit, Research Reports, Policy Papers and academic outputs. We also organise our regular Greenwich Symposia on Responsible Public Procurement which we have held since 2014. See, Public Buyers Engagement and Resources.

Our work to combat modern slavery in public supply chains was a finalist in the Research with Impact Green Gown Awards.

Who we work with

We are working directly with public buyers and buyer organisations in the Higher Education and Local Government sectors including London Universities Purchasing Consoritum, Higher Education Procurement Association, NHS Commercial Solutions and the Local Government Association. Olga is a member of the Board of Directors of LUPC. We are also part of the Transparency in Supply Chains Modern Slavery Strategy and Implementation Group of the UK Home Office Modern Slavery Prevention Unit. Internationally we advise governments, including Canada, the OSCE and the United Nations on their own efforts to combat human rights abuses in their supply chain. With the International Labour Organisation we are developing policy and advocacy on Fair Labour Recruitment and Public Procurement.

We also lead an international network of academics, practitioners and policy makers working on procurement and human rights, the International Learning Lab on Procurement and Human Rights.

The SAPIENS Project:

SAPIENS -Sustainability and Procurement in International, European, and National Systems- Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Innovative Training Network (ITN) (2021-2025 (€3.9 million). The objective of SAPIENS is to foster interdisciplinary research into the evolving use of public procurement to address the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. It aims to create a significantly increased European knowledge base and research capacity on the law, the economics and the business sciences of sustainable public procurement, thus helping Europe in addressing social and environmental challenges. At the heart of the project are 15 PhD projects on various multidisciplinary aspects of Sustainable Public Procurement linked to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The network is an interdisciplinary collaboration, pooling world-leading researchers from relevant disciplines of law, economics and business studies. The project is managed from the University of Turin (Italy) led by the Network Coordinator Professor Roberto Caranta and together with the University of Greenwich includes University of Birmingham (UK), University of Copenhagen (Denmark), Lodz Polytechnic (Poland), Corvinus University of Budapest (Hungary), Tor Vergata University of Rome (Italy), Hasselt University (Belgium), University of Gävle (Sweden), Babes-Bolyai University Romania). Moreover,18 partners, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation, George Washington University, Fair Trade Advocacy Office, Electronics Watch and Eating City, as well as national agencies and public purchasers are contributing to the training programme.

Professor Martin-Ortega leads ESR 8 Protecting Human Rights and Dignity through Procurement and is the second supervisor in ESR 7 Enforcing Sustainability and Social Requirements in Contract Performance.

For more information access the SAPIENS website.

2. Human Rights Due Diligence in Global Supply Chains

What we do

In order to fulfil their corporate responsibility to respect human rights corporations much exercise human rights due diligence, this is, identify, prevent, mitigate and remediate the human rights impacts of their activities and commercial relations. Olga Martin-Ortega has been working on developing this standard of corporate behaviour and making companies accountable for failing to respect human rights and remediate abuses since 2014. This work is directly linked to our work on Modern Slavery, Human Rights and Public Procurement, as we develop human rights due diligence tools for the public sector and on Transparency and Human Rights in the Electronics Supply Chain, as we advocate for human rights led transparency as a key element of substantive due diligence. Our research informs wider recommendations we provide on how to improve practice, policies and legislation, both at national and international level, which we publish in a series of BHRE Policy Briefs and Papers.

Who we work with

Our work has served as the basis for the European Parliament recommendations to the European Commission in the legislative process to adopt mandatory human rights due diligence obligations for European companies and those operating within the European Union. See policy paper commissions by the European Parliament: European Parliament Directorate-General for External Policies, ‘EU human rights due diligence legislation: Monitoring, enforcement and access to justice for victims’- Human Rights Due Diligence Legislation - Options for the EU: Briefing 2, June 2020 (Claire Methven O’Brien and Olga Martin-Ortega). Olga recently presented this work at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute on THE MOMENTUM FOR mHRDD IN THE EU (Webinar series). Olga discussed enhanced spaces for stakeholder participation and access to information through mHRDD and the potential for the EU initiative to address corporate transparency and due diligence from a human rights approach and cristalise a right to know for all stakeholders impacted by corporate abuse. Webcast available here and on the RWI On Human Rights podcast.

In this work we also collaborate with a range of civil society organisations, including Electronics Watch, Good Electronics, the Fair Trade Advocacy Office, Brot fur dei Welt (Bread for the World) and Corporate Justice UK.  Commissioned by the Fair Trade Advocacy Office and Brot für die Welt, we produced the Report, ‘Making Human Rights Due Diligence Work: An Analysis of Impact and Legal Options’, June 2020 (Valerie Nelson, Olga Martin-Ortega and Michael Flint).

3. Transparency and Human Rights in the Electronics Supply Chain

What we do

The global electronics industry is a huge, complex, fast-growing, immensely profitable production

network, employing millions of people around the world. It is, on the other hand, also an industry

where fundamental rights of workers are violated on a massive scale. Workers around the world

are working under precarious and toxic conditions, resulting in poor livelihoods, and high rates

of despair, injury and even death. Corporate secrecy around and of business operations and trade relations plays a key role in perpetuating these harms. As part of our work on Transparency and Human Rights in the Electronics Industry we research the human rights challenges along the whole supply chain, from minerals and raw material extraction to manufacturing components and assembling final consumer products. Our current projects are focused on the definition of transparency applied specifically to the electronics supply chain, how to develop effective monitoring frameworks and procedures to assess, prevent, mitigate and remediate human rights violations and involve workers in such processes directly and how to involve public buyers in this challenge when they procure electronics goods.

Who we work with

We have been at the forefront of international practice on responsible procurement of electronics through our work with Electronics Watch and the Good Electronics Network. Olga is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of Electronics Watch and has contributed to the drafting of its Contract Clauses v.2 and the drafting and negotiating of the Terms of Engagement with the Responsible Business Conduct. We are a key organiser and contributor the its Annual Conference.

As part of our collaboration with Good Electronics we have led the Transparency Working Group of Good Electronics and produced the Report “Beyond corporate transparency. The right to know in the electronics industry’ (2020). Our work with the International Labour Rights Forurm has also focused on Worker Driven Monitoring in the electronics supply chain, and produced the Report “Time for a Reboot: Monitoring in China's Electronics Industry” (2018).

Olga also acted as a technical advisor to the Green Electronics Council guide on public procurement and has participated in the HP Living Progress discussions.

4. Promoting Sustainable Production and Consumption

Un/Archived Textiles Project

What we do

At the Un/Archived Textiles project we aim to address and promote sustainable consumption and production patterns as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG12). The project involves developing a hub at the University of Greenwich for swapping clothes, organising repair stations and mending workshops using natural dye by young creatives. School of Law graduates, staff and external collaborators have all worked together to organise events and create awareness through social media platforms (TikTok and Instagram).  In our clothes show events marbles are given to swappers as tokens, in return for the clothes dropped off at one of the collection points. This is then followed by a swap date, where swappers get to pick out any pre-loved clothing and enjoy its recirculation, depending on the number of marbles they have. For collection and swapping dates plus many more events, including webinars, keep your eyes on our instagram @unarchivedtextiles. For general enquires or new business please enter in contact with Eva Souchet.

Who we work with

The project started at Amnesty International student society namely and later in collaboration with The Royal Society of Arts, RSA. With the RSA we organised a highly successful event on Human Rights in the Fashion and Textile Industry (March 2020), which combined panel discussions, clothing swaps and repair stations. The panel discussions concerned accountability, role of governments, corporations, workers and public buyers. Our events in 2021 include collaborations with Chamu Kuppuswamy (University of Hertfordshire); Karen Da Silvaa (independent); By Wuzzy; and ZeroNegativity.

The DATUM Project

BHRE is part of the multidisciplinary group developing DATUM funded by Innovate UK. DATUM is a research and development project of a collaborative multi-player locative game experience for Shopping Centres. The game aims to promote ethical consumption by supporting the re-opening of sustainable commerce through audio and augmented reality (AR). It explores and engages players in mindful consumption behaviours through small data mining activities following prompts on their mobile devise. The focus of the game is encouraging ethical consumer behaviour through nudging the consumer part of corporate human rights due diligence and technology as a tool to modify behavioural patterns. DATUM is created and produced by ZU-UK, body\>data\>space and University of Greenwich (BHRE, LETS Lab and CLEI – Co-creating Liveness in Embodied Immersion).

DATUM- Small Data Mining- Olga Martin-Ortega, Co-Principal Investigator, Innovate UK (£228,900)

5. Research Units: LETs Lab; FinLed and Human Rights at Sea

LETS Lab: The Law, Emerging Tech & Science (LETS) Lab, is an interdisciplinary research cluster providing a collaborative hub for scholars sharing expertise or research interests in digital aspects of a wider socio-legal substratum, such as: data protection and online profiling, digital economy and fintech regulations, blockchain and smart contracts, digital forensics, computational propaganda and content regulation, BCI and affective computing, automated decision making.

LETS Lab brings together academics and students from various disciplines and backgrounds working on tech related aspects in their fields and allows them to gain insight from different perspectives. Most importantly it provides a strong network that facilitates and supports synergies in future research ventures. If you are interested in joining our network, email Dr Argyro Karanasiou to discuss ways of getting involved. We welcome expressions of interest from academics, students, practitioners, and professionals.

FinLED (Financial Industry: Law, Ethics & Development) provides a unique platform for scholars and practitioners to work collaboratively, bringing together academia and industry in this active network. It promotes research collaboration and sharing best practice relating to financial services industry; in particular, with a focus on financial law and regulation, ethical finance and investment, as well as how financial industry can facilitate sustainable development, etc. FinLED also focuses on a special stream with a particular emphasis on the emerging economies’ issues within its agenda and scope. We investigate and research the latest legal and ethical issues relating to the financial industry, identify and address the key obstacles to promote ethical business within the industry, share the best practices, and generate practical impacts, through research, publication, and knowledge exchange. If you wish to be involved, please contact Dr. Jing Bian.

Human Rights at Sea: This Research Cluster is led by Professor Steven Haines, who works in close collaboration with the international NGO Human Rights at Sea. He is one of his Trustees. Human Rights at Sea’s mission is to raise awareness, implementation and accountability of human rights provisions throughout the maritime environment, especially where they are currently absent, ignored or being abused. It aims to promote human rights (as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent United Nations conventions and declarations) for seafarers, fishermen and others involved in working at sea throughout the world.