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Thesis title: Business Human Rights Responsibilities and the Situation of Migrant Workers in Britain: a Multi-stakeholder Study
Start year: 2011
My doctoral research is a qualitative study which focuses on the implementation of the United Nations-set norm of corporate responsibility to respect human rights in the context of Britain. The primary objective is to explore the relevance of business human rights responsibility in Britain. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights define this normative principle as a basic social expectation which applies to all businesses anywhere in the world. Additionally, they single out migrant workers and their families as particularly vulnerable to business human rights harms. However, most studies on business human rights and migrant workers have focused on industries in zones of weak governance and the developing South. In the advanced economies of the North, business practiceségood and badéseem to have stayed under the radar.
Recent reports on the situation of migrant workers in Britain have identified some poor and exploitative practices in a number of UK-based industries which employ migrant labour. Migrants’ vulnerability and precarity are due to both migration policy and sectoral disadvantage in the jobs they tend to do. Migrant rights depend on the state duty to protect and the corresponding enforcement of policies. Migrants’ capacity to access their rights and to exercise them is determined, among other things, by their legal status and their corresponding market value. Knowledge of one’s rights and willingness to stand up for them are other factors which depend on the individual migrant. However, the UN Guiding Principles emphasise both the state duty to protect and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, encouraging both a critical perspective on the current state-centric paradigm of migrant rights and a questioning of the role of businesses with regards to the situation of migrant workers. In this context, Britain’s market-driven migration policy is particularly in need of analysis.
Although some quantitative studies have shown that listed businesses in Britain have begun to include human rights language in their codes of ethics, it is as yet unclear what human rights responsibilities mean when applied to and by business. There is still little in-depth research on how different stakeholders make sense of and experience business ethics generally, and human rights particularly, in specific business contexts. A qualitative inquiry including the perspectives and experiences of various stakeholders’ perspectives in the hotel sector will highlight the complexity of interactions, relationships and negotiations between the different actors within one of the biggest British industrial sectors. Furthermore, the hotel sector is a major employer of migrant labour in Britain and many international hotel brands based in the country have been involved in elaborating responsible business code of practice including human rights statements.
My study takes a socio-legal approach and sets out to explore what the normative principle actually means to stakeholders in Britain, particularly to migrant workers and their employers in the hospitality sector. It draws on qualitative interviews with managers at different functional and operational levels in hotels, and migrant workers with experience of working in hotels in Britain. It also includes qualitative document analysis of both the British government’s strategy to implement the UN principles, and the ethics and human rights policy statements of the various hotels covered in the interviews. It will inform government and business policy of the challenges and opportunities in implementing the UN Framework; and of the Framework’s relevance to a specific business sector and to a specific population. It will also highlights contradictions in policies and practice which result in enhanced migrants’ vulnerability. Indirectly, it could also raise participants’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities.
Business and human rights; business responsibility; CSR; business ethics; human rights; migrant workers; migrant rights; qualitative research; hotel sector
Human rights; business responsibility and accountability; migration; migrant labour; British migration policy and law; social justice research; qualitative research and methodology; critical theory; socio-legal studies
I have worked as a research assistant for the Oxford-based human rights advocacy NGO Rights and Accountability in Development RAID since 2007. I have been involved in a number of research projects and investigations on human rights responsibility and accountability in the extractive industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and some of the NGO’s publications.