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Human Rights Due Diligence and Systemic Inequalities

Date: 25th and 26th October 2021

Time: 11.30 - 13.00 and 14.00 - 15.30 UK time

Venue: Online

Co-organised by 

Event Details

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) expect business enterprises to undertake human rights due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for their adverse human rights impacts, and apply to "all internationally recognised human rights". Equality lies at the heart of the origins and interrelated nature of human rights, and therefore falls squarely within the ambit envisioned by the UNGPs. Existing equality legislation has often focused on individual abuses of the right to inequality, such as discrimination in the workplace, which can be contrasted with systemic inequalities that are built into the wider structures of society.

This conference will focus an intersectional lens on how the UNGPs apply to systemic inequalities, and consider the human rights due diligence responsibilities of companies in relation to systemic inequalities. It will also consider how the concepts of going beyond formal equality to substantive equality and justice apply in this context.

The conference will take place online and in two parts - Theory and Practice - set over two consecutive days in order to accommodate the speakers' respective time zones.

Download the programme

Download the Speaker biographies

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Conference Recordings

Recordings of the conference sessions are available here 

Conference Organisers

This conference is co-organised by Lise Smit, at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL), and Dr Sorcha MacLeod, Centre for Private Governance (CEPRI ), at the University of Copenhagen.

Lise Smit  is Senior Research Fellow in Business and Human Rights at BIICL. The BIICL business and human rights team undertake research on the law and practice around the UNGPs, including on the regulatory and legal developments around human rights due diligence. This conference forms part of the annual programme of the BIICL Human Rights Due Diligence Forum.
More information on the work of the BIICL business and human rights team  

Sorcha MacLeod is a Marie Curie Fellow and Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen, and also a member of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries. She specialises in business, human rights and security, in particular the human rights impacts and regulation of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC). This conference forms part of her EU-funded project: RESpECT - Public Actions, Private Rules at the Margins: Ensuring Respect for Human Rights by Private Security Companies

Day 1: "Theory" Monday 25 October

Session 1: The UNGPs and Systemic Inequalities

11.30 - 13.00 UK time

Speakers will discuss such questions as:

  • How does the right to substantive equality fit within the UNGPs framework?
  • What are systemic inequalities (as contrasted with individual cases of discrimination or abuse) and how do they fit within the UNGPs framework?
  • What is an intersectional approach to substantive equality and how does this fit in with the UNGPs framework?
  • What does the concept of human rights due diligence require with respect to systemic inequalities? (Concepts such as identify, assess, mitigate and prevent, leverage, UNGP 23 on conflict between international human rights and local practices or contexts)


Freya Dinshaw, Human Rights Law Centre, Australia


  • Michael Addo, University of Notre Dame London
  • Manel Chibane, Clooney Foundation for Justice
  • Rachel Davis, Shift
  • Bonita Meyersfeld, University of Witwatersrand Johannesburg
  • Krishnendu Mukherjee, Doughty Street Chambers

Further speakers to be confirmed

Session 2: Human Rights Due Diligence and Systemic Inequalities

14:00 to 15:30 UK time

This session will take a deeper dive into the concept of human rights due diligence as relevant in contexts of, for example, systemic racism, gender inequality, LGBTQ+ inequality and disability inequality, caste and class, using an intersectional lens. Speakers will consider such questions as:

  • What do the UNGPs and specifically the expectations regarding HRDD mean for companies that operate in contexts with systemic racial, gender, LGBTQ+, disability and other forms of inequalities?
  • How does an intersectional approach assist with the understanding and application of these expectations?
  • Conceptually distinguishing HRDD from corporate social responsibility (CSR), public relations or philanthropy responses.


 Elsa Savourey, UN PRI


  • Daniel Berezowsky, Shift
  • Barnali Choudhury, University College London
  • Erika George, University of Utah
  • Harpreet Kaur, United Nations Development Programme
  • Charmika Samaradiwakera-Wijesundara, University of Witwatersrand Johannesburg
  • James Sinclair, Ethical Innovations

Further speakers to be confirmed

Day 2: "Practice" Tuesday 26 October

Session 1: The Status Quo and Lessons Learnt

11:30 to 13:00 UK time

Speakers will consider what we have learnt about the application of the UNGPs to contexts of systemic inequality with reference to practical examples.

  • What is the status quo regarding corporate practice around HRDD for systemic inequality?
  • What lessons can we learn about how to improve approaches and practices?
  • How do these lessons tie in with the three pillars of the UNGPs and the concept of HRDD?
  • Practical examples distinguishing HRDD from corporate social responsibility, public relations or philanthropy efforts. (Also practical examples of these concepts not currently being distinguished in practice.)


Michael Olatokun, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law


  • Fola Adeleke, University of Witwatersrand Johannesburg
  • Sorcha MacLeod, University of Copenhagen and UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries
  • Grace Mutung'u, Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law at Strathmore University Kenya
  • Thabisile Phumo, Sibanye Stillwater
  • Mustafa Qadri, Equidem Research and Consulting
  • Nelleke van Amstel, Twentyfifty GmbH

Further speakers to be confirmed.

Session 2: The Way Forward

14:00 UK time to 15:30 UK time

Speakers will consider the way forward for bringing systemic inequality into HRDD practices. Questions will include:

  • What will be the impact of changing social expectations around inclusivity?
  • What will be the impact of a binding legal standard of care set out in the new wave of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation? For example, the potential implications for remedy, State obligations and other legal implications.
  • Practical examples of how business could meet a legally binding mHERDD or 'duty to prevent' expectation in contexts of systemic inequality. 


Lise Smit, British Institute of International and Comparative Law 


  • Dominique Day, Chair, UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
  • Jaren Dunning, Pepsico
  • Mary Beth Gallagher, Domini Impact Investments
  • Sindiso Mnisi Weeks, University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Andrea Shemberg, Global Business Initiative on Human Rights
  • Paolo Vargiu, University of Leicester

Further speakers to be confirmed

CPD Information

This event offers the equivalent of 6 CPD hours.


If you have any queries, please contact the Events team

Event Recording

Please note that our events may be photographed or recorded. These materials will be used for internal and external promotional purposes only by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. If you object to appearing in recordings or photographs, please contact The Event Team to let us know ahead of the event.

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