Human Rights Law Centre

Business, Trade and Human Rights Unit

Our business, trade and human rights unit is concerned with the human rights implications of the activities of multinational corporations and other business enterprises worldwide.

The unit has conducted research including projects on available remedies for victims of abuses as a result of business’s activities, and the impact of infrastructure projects on the marine cultural heritage of coastal areas in Kenya and Madagascar.

The unit actively engages with events, including the attendance of Dr Daria Davitti and Professor Annamaria LaChimia at the IEL Collective's inaugural conference in 2019, and the attendance of Laura Wills at the Eurodad International Conference, Development finance in the 21st century: Economic justice for all?

Additionally, the work of Professor Robert McCorquodale, especially on human rights due diligence requirements on companies and on access to remedy, has had impacts on the creation and application of global standards, domestic legislation and case law.

As an Independent Special Advisor for the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on Drafting a Legally Binding Instrument on Business and Human Rights since 2014, Professor McCorquodale has commented on the development of this treaty. He has also discussed its development with diplomats, corporations and civil society.


Unit Head

The unit is led by Robert McCorquodale, Professor of International Law and Human Rights, whose body of work has helped to create and develop the field of business and human rights. Professor McCorquodale has been researching, teaching and practising in this field for over 25 years.

Unit members

  • Dr Qianlan Wu, Assistant Professor in Commercial Law and Chinese Law
  • Laura Wills, HRLC Research and Projects Officer
  • Marie Auter, HRLC Research and Projects Assistant

Featured work

Dr Daria Davitti and Professor Annamaria LaChimia are both founding members of the International Economic Law Collective (IEL Collective), a group of scholars critically examining international economic law to ensure economic law and policy work for people and communities created in November 2019. Together with colleagues from other UK universities, they wrote one of the first IEL Collective’s articles ‘International Economic Law and Covid-19’ and ‘Covid-19 and the Precarity of International Investment Law’.

In addition, the IEL Collective also has a new YouTube channel with various video conversations on issues related to Covid-19 and international economic law, including Covid-19, IEL and equality, public health, the right to food, digital technologies and investment law.

Professor Annamaria LaChimia participated in the conversation on Covid-19, IEL and the right to food, together with Luis Eslava (Kent Law), Clair Gammage (Bristol Law) and Michael Fakhri (Oregon Law), the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. They explored the impact of Covid-19 on food security, food distribution, trade and the right to food.

In addition to HRLC, the IEL Collective is supported by the following institutions: NB: full list included: Birkbeck School of Law 



EU Fundamental Rights Agency fieldwork research: ‘Business and human rights – access to justice’

Project team

  • Professor McCorquodale
  • Laura Wills
  • Marie Auter

The research led to a comparative overview of what seems to work and what is missing in terms of access to justice in relation to business abuses of human rights, with a view to identifying possible actions in the EU.

The unit conducted research for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency on available remedies for victims of abuses as a result of business’s activities.

The first part of the project was led by Ms Laura Wills, who conducted desk research in order to identify key human rights abuses involving businesses, where access to remedy was an important feature.

The second part of the project, led by Professor McCorquodale, captured hands-on experiences of persons involved in facilitating access to remedy. It is intended to provide clear guidance on measures most needed for access to justice to be improved in cases of business-related human rights abuse.


Protecting the Past, Preserving the Future: Blended Finance and the Protection of Marine Cultural Heritage in Lamu Port (Kenya) and Tolagnaro (Madagascar)

Project team

  • Principal Investigator - Dr Daria Davitti
  • Co-Investigator (Kenya) - Mr Joseph Agutu Omolo
  • Co-Investigator (UK) - Ms Laura Wills
  • Research Assistant (Kenya) - Ms Lucianna Wambui Thuo
Boat image

Protecting the Past, Preserving the Future was granted GCRF funding from the Rising From the Depths Network to commence in June 2019. Together colleagues from HRLC and Kabarak Law School will comparatively examine the socio-legal implications of two infrastructural projects directly impacting the marine cultural heritage (MCH) of coastal areas in Kenya and Madagascar.

Both infrastructure projects partially rely on development funds, used to attract further private sector investment. This private-public partnership (PPP) financing model raises a number of unanswered legal questions. Through the lens of human rights, including the right to culture, this project will investigate the impact of this development finance model and how the MCH and local communities relying on it can be protected.



In 2014, the construction of a 32-Berth port in the designated UNESCO World Heritage site of Lamu, Kenya, began. This development project is part of the Kenyan Government’s Kenya Vision 2030 Strategy that aims to establish Kenya as an industrialising middle-income nation by 2030.

Since construction in Lamu commenced, however, the project has faced significant resistance from local communities regarding the interference with their traditional fishing waters and in turn their livelihood and traditional cultural practices.

Additionally, construction has caused significant harm to the local environment and MCH. Whilst examining the MCH impacts of Lamu port, the project also explores one of its less well-known aspects, that is its development finance dimension. What are the implications of financing an infrastructural project of these dimensions through PPPs? What are the applicable legal frameworks? How do different branches of law interact in the structuring of the development finance architecture behind the project? How does this affect, if at all, human rights protection?



The creation of a large QMM mining project in Tolagnaro, Madagascar, raises questions regarding its impact on local fishing communities, with their sea-dependent identity, as well as Tolagnaro’s unique marine biodiversity, coastal forest and the related intangible MCH.

Significantly, Madagascar is the only East African party to the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. Informed by the findings of the Lamu case study and guided by consultation with local stakeholders, our work in Madagascar will assess how our overall research findings may be transferred to different settings and look at whether the law can be better used to preserve MCH and prevent further loss for these communities.

Using the findings of our work in Kenya, we will create an advocacy and engagement toolkit to help affected communities and other stakeholders when taking part in discussions about the design, involvement and implementation of similar projects. Through work with local Malagasy stakeholders, the toolkit will be testing in this different setting to ensure its transferability.


Publications, news and events

As one of the six research units within the HRLC, you can find all our unit publications, news and events on the publications, news and events pages.


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Human Rights Law Centre

School of Law
University of Nottingham
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