Leonard Feld, PhD student at the European University Institute in Florence, is visiting RWI in Lund until July. He focuses on how European legislation nudges corporations to prevent or address negative human rights impacts of their business. We sat down with him to hear more about his research and what change he hopes to create.
Feld first became interested in human rights during his law studies, when he was introduced to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
“The combination of my interest in business law and human rights was very appealing for me,” he says.
As a consumer, Feld found it difficult to figure out whether products were produced under safe working conditions and for fair wages. It inspired him to investigate how law indirectly can make companies respect human rights in their global operations.
I think we need to draw a line. In my opinion, this line is basic human rights standards, he says.
With Power Comes Responsibility
Today, some companies have become powerful actors. According to Feld, power entails a responsibility. He admits that addressing human rights violations can be a cost-factor for corporations. Nevertheless, ethical business also benefits companies and consumers.
“Of course, you can argue that not everyone can afford buying fair trade products but as soon as it becomes standard, and all companies do it, they usually manage to lower the costs. You might have slightly increased prices but not to the extent that people cannot afford clothes or electronic devices,” says Feld, adding:
This is the society I want to live in. I don’t want to live in a society where profit trumps certain ethical standards.
Asked whether it is possible for companies to be ethical and generate profit, Feld answers:
“I have hope left. I know it’s a balancing act and it’s also why I use the term ‘nudge’ in my work. Of course, you could write a strict law but you cannot tell companies to do something they are not capable of. A regulator has to corporate and engage with corporations to see what they can do and what is most feasible and effective.”
Integrating respect for human rights into companies is a long-term process. However, Feld believes his research can have positive impact:
“By small steps, in 10-20 years, we can create a European economy that is much more sustainable and aware of the impact on human rights. That is something I would like to contribute to with my work.”