Samentha Goethals

Samentha Goethals



Thesis title: Business Human Rights Responsibilities and the Situation of Migrant Workers in Britain: a Multi-stakeholder Study

Start year: 2011


  • Math Noortmann, Director of Studies
  • Juliette Koning

Research topic

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

General research interests

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

Teaching experience


  • U23130 Research Methods in Politics and International Relations: Analytical Modes (seminar leader)
  • U23222 Structures of Global Governance (seminar leader)


  • U23130 Research Methods in Politics and International Relations: Analytical Modes (seminar leader)
  • U23201 Introduction to International Relations (seminar leader)


  • U23202 Contemporary Issues in World Politics (seminar leader)


  • ESOL with literacy and EFL tutor at the UNION Oxfordshire County Council Adult Learning 2006–2011


Conference papers

  • Samentha Goethals (2013) Asking the ‘Rights’ Question: Early Reflection on Approaching Fieldwork with Hotel Managers and Migrant Workers, Working paper, International Conference on Business Ethics and CSR Bournemouth, 5–6 September, 2013
  • Samentha Goethals (2013) Multi-stakeholders norm-making and neo-liberal governance: The Case of the UN Business and Human Rights Framework, Oxford University – Neoliberal Legality Workshop, 21 June 2013
  • Samentha Goethals and Alice Nuttall, ‘Invisible, Visions, Visibility’ Research in theatre, Visions of the Future, Oxford Brookes Amazing Acts Festival, Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, 11 May 2013

Scholarships and prizes

  • MA in International Law and International Relations 2012 Prize for outstanding contribution to the course
  • Doctoral Training Programme studentship for 2011–2014
  • PGT to PGR Prize in IR, Politics and Sociology 2011–2012
  • Brookes ECIF scholarship covering for MA in International Law and International Relations
  • University Undergraduate Scholarship Scheme (URSS) 2009 to fund a field investigation on Sino-South African relations including political and business elite interviewing in Cap Town, South Africa under the supervision of Dr Stephen Hurt
  • Westminster Institute Prize for the best undergraduate student in Religion and Theology 2010
  • Ruth Cornwall-Jones Memorial Prize for academic excellence in Religion and Theology 2008–2009
  • Baylis and Smith Prize for the best undergraduate essay in International Relations 2007

Other experience and professional activities

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.