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My Law School Story: Kelsey Guiot, Uncovering Operational Grievance Mechanisms

Companies behave better when there’s accountability.

At least that’s what New England Law | Boston student Kelsey Guiot '19 has found.

For the past two years, Guiot has been researching the prevalence of operational grievance mechanisms, aka any formal, private corporate complaint process that allows individuals to report when that company’s actions or activities have had a negative impact, including on human rights. In theory, these processes help keep companies in check and protect stakeholders like employees and local community members from future harms while also providing them much needed redress.

But what companies have these operational grievance mechanisms in place? What do their policies entail? What are they doing to address complaints and provide reparations? The answers can vary substantially, but that’s just what Guiot, a third-year law student, and her classmates are trying to figure out with the Operational Grievance Mechanism Research and Monitoring Project (OGM Project).

Led by New England Law Professor Lisa Laplante and conducted through the school’s Center for International Law and Policy, the OGM Project was launched in 2015 to track redress processes used by companies the world over. Guiot joined the project during her first year of law school. It appealed to her longtime passion for human rights work, and she knew it would give her hands-on experience with monitoring work, she says. Now in her final year of law school, she serves as Manager for the OGM Project.

“In the last two years we've seen a huge increase of companies developing human rights policies,” Guiot says. “We continuously are gathering examples of companies around the globe to add to our database,” which includes both human rights policies and operational grievance mechanisms.

In fact, operational grievance mechanisms are seen as such an important from of redress that the United Nations focused on their importance in the “Third Pillar” of its UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Since the UNGPs were approved by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, more and more companies have developed their own human rights policies in keeping with the UN’s recommendations, Guiot says—but plenty of others have not.

The OGM Project targets companies engaged in international commerce who have some or all of the following: subsidiaries; a history of human rights violations; a known impact on local stakeholders; and references to a human rights policy, grievance mechanism, or the U.N.'s guiding principles on their website. The OGM Project has examined close to 200 companies and gathered substantial data on 80 companies with both a human rights policy and OGM process. They hope to investigate around 100 more companies in 2019, Guiot says.

In addition to determining if a company has human rights policies and/or operational grievance mechanisms in place, Guiot and her law school peers are researching what the policies detail, who they apply to, and more. Finally, they research whether the companies list any data on their websites detailing specific claims about negative human rights impacts and reparations. “Those are the main, big things that we're looking for,” she says.

Guiot and the OGM Project team find this information primarily by scouring the Internet and checking individual company websites. The reparations research is a bit tougher, she says, because companies obviously don’t want to highlight information that may paint them in a negative light. So the student researchers turn to legal databases like Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg, and even the United Nation’s website, as well as journalism, advocacy groups, and other sources to help them assess the purported advances of the companies. It all adds up to a lot of time researching online, Guiot says. (While the project has relied primarily on desktop research so far, they’re hopeful that a future phase will integrate field research.)

“No one else has this data,” Guiot says. “We're really the first trying to get this all together in an organized space, for people to be able to look at it.” The ultimate goal of the Operational Grievance Mechanism Research and Monitoring Project is to share their findings with the world, opening up their entire database for anyone to use and reference, be it other lawyers, students, journalists, watchdog organizations—or the United Nations itself. In fact, the OGM Project will be helping the United Nation’s research team by sharing the data they have collected over the past three years. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has its own ongoing research into issues relating to accessing a remedy for negative human rights impacts caused or contributed to by businesses too.

The OGM Project has been working on case studies with their research as well, the first of which they plan to publish in the spring of 2019. These reports will discuss both successful operational grievance mechanisms and examples of how corporations are attempting to comply with the UN’s guiding principles but perhaps falling short.

“In the long term, [the operational grievance mechanism database] could end up being extremely beneficial to businesses around the globe, because they would be able to see a lot of programs that have been implemented that are successful or may be unique in ways that are helpful to them,” Guiot says. “It can help companies learn where they need to improve and also just encourage them, in general, to have an awareness of negative human rights impacts and how to redress them.”

Besides appealing to her interest in human rights law, all this research ties into Guiot’s professional goals: practicing international law after she graduates in May 2019. “I came to New England Law because I had such an interest in international law, and I felt like we had a really unique program here that I couldn't find other places,” Guiot says. “A lot of places only have immigration programs and say that they’re international law programs, whereas I feel like New England Law really had both. I have gotten the most out of both the international and the immigration program here, together and separately.”

In addition to her work on the OGM Project, Guiot is the Secretary of New England Law’s International Law Society. She is also an intern with Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, a role that sparked an interest in refugee and asylum law too. “It's the perfect combination of international and immigration law for me,” Guiot says. “And it's certainly been relevant lately, which was not my intention but I'm rolling with it.” (She ended up doing asylum work for the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic just as the widely publicized caravan of asylum seekers reached the U.S.-Mexico border in the fall of 2018.)

Any current or future law students interested in international legal issues would be well served to work on a research project similar to the Operational Grievance Mechanism Project, Guiot says, particularly because the work is often quite different from the domestic legal research law students typically do. “For anyone that's interested in international law, it's a helpful experience to see another aspect of legal research.”

Guiot thinks increased international pressure has forced companies to be more transparent and accountable for negative human rights impacts in recent years. And between the UN’s efforts, activist movements, investigative journalism—and research like the Operational Grievance Mechanism Project—the push for corporate accountability is stronger than ever before.

To access the Operational Grievance Mechanism Research and Monitoring Project findings, please contact project director Lisa Laplante.

Upcoming Events

The Center for International Law and Policy hosts several events each year, including film screenings, speaker panels, and symposia (see examples below). Many are open to the public as well.

For more information about CILP events, including submitting talk proposals, please contact center director Lisa Laplante.

Past Events

Guest Speakers and Panels

These events bring practitioners and academics working on important legal issues in international law to share their expertise with the New England Law | Boston community.

2019

Regulate-Big-Tech-webVivek Krishnamurthy, The Quest to Regulate Big Tech: Privacy, Free Expression, and Competition: Vivek Krishnamurthy, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa, and Director, Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, shared his insights regarding breaking up big tech companies to hold them liable for the content on their platforms and restrict their use of private data, particularly given the impact these companies have on the human rights of privacy and free expression.

 

supply-chains-modern-day-human-trafficking-posterSupply Chains and Modern Day Human Trafficking: This event featured Christina Bain, Director of the Initiative on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, who brings a wealth of experience studying human trafficking through the lens of business and how businesses use forced and trafficked labor. It is sure to be an enlightening and poignant discussion of the injustices behind some of the most common aspects of our consumer experience.

 

Transgender-Human-Rights-posterTaking a Closer Look at Transgender Human Rights: Panel featuring the following experts discussing the challenges the transgender community faces on a domestic and international scale: Kaden Mohamed, a member of the Steering Committee for the Massachusetts Transgender Coalition; William Berman, a clinical professor of law at Suffolk University; and Bruno Rodriguez Reveggino, a Peruvian international lawyer and former advisor to the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Sponsored by the school's Center for International Law and Policy, the International Law Society, and OUTLaws, as well as the Boston Coalition for the Inter-American Human Rights System.

2018

Matt-Gold-posterTrump’s Trade Wars: Are They Winnable? The United States’ trade agreements make up a whopping 90 percent of all public international law. What do these global trade agreements accomplish—and what’s going to happen now that the Trump administration is implementing radical new tariffs and other policy change? Professor of international trade law, former White House trade official, and New England Law alumnus Matt Gold  addressed these issues and more in this talk, co-sponsored by New England Law’s Center for International Law and Policy, Center for Business Law, and Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

 

Lorianne-Updike-Toler-poster

Lorianne Updike Toler, Constitution-Writing at Home and Abroad: Constitutional legal historian and President of Libertas Constitutional Consulting, Toler shared her years of research studying the process of constitution writing.

 

 

 

Colombia-Expert-Meeting-posterWhat’s Business Got to Do with It? Peacebuilding in Colombia: Luis Fernando Angulo, executive director of El Centro Regional de Empresas y Emprendimientos Responsables (CILP’s partner organization in Colombia), and German Zamara, senior research director with CREER, provided an insider’s view of Colombia’s recent peace agreement and how the government has been seeking to involve the private sector in the peace process it spearheaded.

 

2017

Viviana-PosterViviana Krsticevic, Assessing the Impact of Human Rights Litigation in the Americas: Executive Director of the Center for Justice and International Law, Krsticevic has been a human rights litigator in the Inter-American Human Rights System for over two decades, and CEJIL is one of the leading non-governmental groups to bring cases to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. She shared some of her first-hand accounts of litigating in a regional human rights system while also offering her assessment of the direct impact of this work.

Combating Corruption in a New Global Reality: This panel discussed recent developments in the field of international corruption law. It featured Anthony Mirenda, Partner, Foley Hoag; Michael Granne, Associate, Zuber Lawler & Del Duca; and John Sherman, General Counsel, Shift. Boston Bar Association co-sponsored.

2016

Zhiyuan Guo: CILP collaborated with Center for Law and Social Responsibility to host this prominent Fulbright scholar and professor at China University of Political Science and Law. This daylong visit included activities for faculty and students and aimed to build our institutional relationship with a major Chinese law school.

Human Rights Day: A Poignant Discussion on Female Genital Mutilation: This panel featured alumna Katie Cintolo and New England Law Professor Dina Haynes, who had recently testified on Beacon Hill about a new bill on FGM.

2015

Hon. Ganna Yudkivska, The Impact of the European Human Rights System on Democratization in Eastern Europe: Judge Yudkivska, who sits on the European Court of Human Rights, shared some of the recent developments of the rulings of the international human rights court in Europe. Boston Bar Association co-sponsored.

Human Rights and Corporate Liability: What You Need to Know: This panel shared useful knowledge regarding the evolving international legal and policy framework that may impact how legal practitioners work with corporations of all sizes. Panelists included John Sherman, general counsel and senior advisor, Shift; Tyler Giannini, clinical professor of law and co-director, Harvard Law School's Human Rights Program and the International Human Rights Clinic; and Amanda Werner, legal and policy fellow, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable. Boston Bar Association co-sponsored.

Justice Defenders: Who Defends Those Who Defend Human Rights? This panel highlighted the work of lawyers working to protect and defend human rights advocates. Panelists included Priscila Rodriguez Bribiesca, founder and legal director, Mexican-U.S. NGO Strategic Defense and Communication for Change (SAKBE), and Fergal Gaynor, counsel for victims in an ICC case, Prosecutor v. Uhuru Kenyatta.

Dustin Lewis, Anti-Corruption and Counterterrorism Measures: An Overview for NGOs and Corporations Operating in Insecure Environments: Lewis, a senior researcher at the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, explored the issues and concerns that arise for NGOs and corporations operating in armed conflicts and other humanitarian emergencies such as what due diligence and risk mitigation would entail for organizations working in relation to Syria or Somalia. Boston Bar Association co-sponsored.

2014

Terrorism and the Material Support Statute: A Panel Discussion on the First Circuit’s Decision in United States v. Mehanna and Related Issues: The panel explored the various issues and debates stemming from the First Circuit’s decision in November 2013 in which the Court affirmed the conviction of Tarek Mehanna, a 30-year old pharmacist from Sudbury, Massachusetts, for material support for terrorism. Panelists included Professor Andrew March, Yale Law School; Professor Peter Margulies, Roger Williams School of Law; and Sabin Willett, Bingham McCutchen LLP. Boston Bar Association co-sponsored.

International Disability Law: Opening Doors for Access and Inclusion: This event featured both out of state and local speakers discussing the effectiveness of international conventions regulating disability law, and identify the next steps in addressing the needs of the international disabled population. Speakers included Daniela Caruso, Professor of Law, Boston University; Eric Mathews, Advocacy Associate, Disability Rights International; and Diana Samarasan, Founding Executive Director, Disability Rights Advocacy Fund & Disability Rights Fund.

2013

Julia Rogers, One Seed at a Time: The United Nations, Food Security, and Development: As a legal consultant with the United Nations and other international organizations, Ms. Rogers advises developing countries on legislative reforms to strengthen their agriculture sector and promote food security. Her work has taken her to Afghanistan, Ethiopia, East Timor, Angola, and Tanzania to hold in-depth dialogues with key stakeholders–from government officials to farmers associations. She provided her personal reflections on the challenges of engaging in legal work to support countries on the path to development.

Human Rights Film Screenings

Documentaries help to highlight and bring to life pressing international issues which otherwise often seem remote and abstract. Each fall semester, the law school and CILP organize a film screening to foster dialogue and raise awareness of pressing human rights concerns. These events often include a panel or guest lecture.

2019 

Trials-of-Spring-posterThe Trials of Spring: Center for International Law and Policy hosted a private screening of Fork Films’ The Trials of Spring, featuring special guests Hend Nafea and Marie O’Reilly. Hend is the subject of the film, which follows the immediate aftermath of the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, specifically her story as an activist and protester who was sexually assaulted by the Egyptian military for speaking out against sexual and physical violence towards women. Hend challenged being sexually assaulted during her fight for democracy, helping expose how systematic sexual violence became a tactic of repressing legitimate protest. O’Reilly is a writer, researcher, and film producer exploring the nexus of gender, peace, and security. Both Hend and O’Reilly spoke to attendees following the screening.

2017 

The-Uncondemned-posterThe Uncondemned: Making its first public screening in Boston, this documentary tells the story about the litigation strategy devised by a young group of lawyers working for the International Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute the crime of rape as a part of an overall charge of genocide—the Akayesu case was the first of its kind. Filmmaker Michele Mitchell then gave remarks and answered questions after the film. Community partners included Komera, Peace is Loud, and the MaranyundoInitiative.

 

the-man-who-mends-women-posterThe Man Who Mends Women: This International Women’s Day film screening featured a documentary about Dr. Denis Mukwege, renowned doctor and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who dedicated his life to repairing the bodies of women who were raped during the 20 years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This event was organized in collaboration with United Nations Association of Greater Boston's Global Women's Circle and Harvard School of Public Health.

2016

price-we-pay-posterThe Price We Pay: This award-winning Canadian documentary revealed how large corporations use tax havens to escape paying taxes. We also featured guest speaker Gillian Caldwell, CEO of Global Witness, one of the organizations that helped to uncover the Panama Papers, which helped to reveal the vast corruption with secret tax havens. The film was screened during an event titled Shady Business: The Offshore Industry of Tax Havens, Shell Companies, and Crime.

2015

First Light: This film provided an overview of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the first such body for Native Americans in the United States. The TRC uncovered the discrimination experienced by the Wabanaki children and families involved with the Maine child welfare system. The film’s director, Adam Mazo, and activists featured in the work joined us for a panel discussion after the screening.

2014 

Co-Exist. This film was screened during an event entitled Healing After Genocide: Stories from Rwanda, which was in recognition of the 20 years that had passed since the genocide in Rwanda. The documentary is about the difficult healing process after the genocide. The law school and CILP were fortunate to be able to organize the event in coordination with the NGO Coexist Learning Project. One of the activists featured in the film, Solange Nyirasafari, traveled from Rwanda to join us.

2013 

granito-posterGranito: How to Nail a Dictator. This film provides a captivating tale of how a small international legal team managed to bring former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt to justice. During his brief leadership in the early 1980s, General Ríos Montt orchestrated a brutal government policy that led to the massacre of many Mayan villages. The film is produced by Pamela Yates whose 1983 film When the Mountains Tremble helped inform the world of this horrific tragedy. This film is her latest documentary and narrates how she was approached to be a witness against the General and how her incriminating footage from her earlier film became critical to the litigation strategy.