Should Human Rights Be Part Of An MBA?

Sarah Labowitz, the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at NYU Stern

Sarah Labowitz, the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at NYU Stern

“Regardless of what industry you end up in as an MBA grad, this is a trend and challenge you’re going to face,” says Labowitz. “We’re starting to see companies look for these skills in hiring positions.”

The obvious issues manifest in the supply chain. Labowitz believes the widespread use of technology, leading to increased transparency, new civil groups on the ground in developing nations, and increased interest in big data and journalist efforts has put a magnifying glass on the deepest and darkest depths of supply chains that once were ignored.

“Companies are not going to be able to ignore what’s happening further and further down in their value chains,” Labowitz insists. “Everything from sourced materials–things like cotton–all the way through to the finished product. It will be huge in a number of industries ranging from apparel and then into fishing, food, electronics and tech issues, as well.”


Third party initiatives are also beginning to measure and hold companies accountable for their human rights efforts and decision making, Natour says. Rankings and ratings such as the Corporate Human Rights BenchmarkKnow the Chain and Ranking Digital Rights are all putting a spotlight on the supply chains and technologies of companies around the globe.

Natour also believes the new frontier of shared economies and micro-entrepreneurs will usher in new human rights frameworks and policies within organizations. “What we’re seeing is new players in these markets operating within a human rights and business framework–and a broader regulatory framework–that’s developed from the markets they’re disrupting,” Natour explains, mentioning AirBnb, Uber and Lyft as examples. “And so there is this unknown or gray space of how do we protect human rights in the context of these new economic models.”

Some of the initial research Natour and the Berkeley Haas initiative will focus on will revolve around creating a “social safety net” for this new economy. “What does it look like in a world where most of us are going to be micro-entrepreneurs instead of employees that enjoy benefits,” reasons Natour. “I’m not saying that one approach is better than another, but there is clearly a need to adjust the operating context from the human rights perspective.”


Shortly after the Center at NYU Stern launched in 2013, Labowitz told Poets&Quants she had already heard from Harvard Business School, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the Center for Responsible Business at Haas. While Ross and HBS have yet to establish a similar center or initiative, the Center for Responsible Business, under the new leadership of Strand, has mirrored the program at NYU Stern. And according to Strand, it’s a natural extension to the university and center, which is now a decade old.

“Human rights is something the University of California-Berkeley has some incredibly strong competencies in,” says Strand. “And it’s an increasingly important topic that’s being recognized by businesses–the relevancy and responsibility that business is assuming and also being placed upon to respect human rights.”

Indeed, the Berkeley ecosystem–within and outside of the university–seems to be as good of place as any for the initial rumblings of a larger progressive movement. “We feel that this is an area where we can really pay a leadership role in helping to usher in the mainstreaming of respecting human rights in business,” Strand continues.

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