human rights & business (and a few other things)

Remembering Prof. John Ruggie

Prof. John Ruggie has passed. Those in the business and human rights world who knew him well have already published beautiful tributes. Mine will be less about the man and more about his work. I only briefly met him in person in 2013 when he came to London for a book signing event.

After that we were in contact by email every few years, most recently this summer. I invited him to review a book for the Business and Human Rights Journal and he kindly accepted within hours.

I didn’t know him personally and yet his death is hitting hard.

I got into business and human rights in 2010. I was four years post-PhD having worked mostly on the death penalty and International Criminal Law. I was fortunate to have a permanent academic job. And yet I was profoundly unhappy in my professional life. I was only making half-baked contributions. My teaching load was insane and I only occasionally connected with students about anything. It all felt pointless.

My then boss, the wonderful Joshua Castellino (“what would Joshua do?” I still ask myself every time I need to make a difficult decision), had the idea of creating a programme about human rights and business. I can’t remember how it happened but all of a sudden I was spending most of my time setting up the programme, writing accreditation documents and pushing them all through validation. For three years I led our pioneering Master’s programme in human rights and business. This got me invited to New York, to the first meeting of what would become the Teaching Business and Human Rights Forum, led by two visionaries: Joanne Bauer and Anthony Ewing.

For a few years, I was out of my depth. I had zero publication in the area. But I had the enthusiasm and at the time, given my privileged position, it was enough.

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the UNGPs, John Ruggie’s central contribution as UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative. The UNGPs focused academic discussion and advocacy efforts. Business and Human Rights went from catchy phrase to academic field. My field.

While working in business and human rights I have found my purpose, my true professional family, my crew, my… network as I stupidly write in cover letters.

I owe John Ruggie some of the most solid and trusting relationships of my life. Without those, I don’t even know if I could do my job, let alone enjoy it the way I do most of the time. I am grateful beyond words for his work and vision.

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