Human Rights Law Centre

Business, Trade and Human Rights Unit

The unit is concerned with the human rights implications of the activities of multinational corporations and other business enterprises worlwide.

In particular it addresses the following subject areas:

  • the human rights obligations of multinational corporations (MNCs) and other business enterprises
  • the use of social and environmental protection clauses in the regulation of international investment
  • issues of responsible investment, lending and contracting in international business transactions
  • the concept of due diligence applied to business activities
  • the development and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights


Unit Head: Robert McCorquodale, Professor of International Law and Human Rights 

Unit members:                    Professor Mary Footer, Dr Daria Davitti, Laura Wills, Research Officer and Marie Auter, Research Assistant



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

Project team

  • Professor McCorquodale
  • Ms Laura Wills
  • Ms Marie Auter

The research will lead 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 has been conducting 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, will capture 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.

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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. 


Past engagement

Co-I, Laura Wills attended the Eurodad International Conference 2019 – Development finance in the 21st century: Economic justice for all?


Workshop on Business, Human Rights and Security, co-organised with NILSC, 26-27 January 2017, University Park

Workshop on UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), Post-Conflict Situations and Fragile States, co-organised with NILSC, 20-21 May 2015, University Park


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Human Rights Law Centre

School of Law
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

+44 (0)115 846 8506