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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Call for Papers, on a Great Topic: Vulnerability and the Corporation; Perhaps There are Lessons to

Today’s post highlights an upcoming academic conference as it relates to the use of asbestos in developing nations. Perhaps some of you have answers or thoughts to contribute to the conference.

As is illustrated by the work of investigative reporters referred to in this post from Friday, it is plain that that companies in so-called “developing nations” are repeating asbestos-related public health failures that previously occurred in the United States, Europe and Australia. Any compassionate, thinking person has to ask why the mistakes are being repeated, and what can be done to chart a different course.

Plainly, one part of the answer is that people need work. Over the years, I heard scores of former asbestos-workers acknowledge that they knew their were some hazards, but they went ahead and worked with asbestos despite knowing of “dangers.” Simply put, they needed the work to support their families. Much the same story no doubt will be told in future years in the many different languages of Russia, China and South America.

Consider also this prior post with the same kinds of statements from Russians working with mammoth tusks, and at risk from the tusks. They stayed with the work because it included extra pay for working with a hazard.

One would hope that that corporations and developing nations would do better than repeating past mistakes, but that does not appear to be happening. Accordingly, it was strangely coincidental to read this Conglomerate post that describes a relevant October 29 and 30 academic conference aimed at addressing some of those types of questions. The conference is at Emory University School of Law, and is titled: Vulnerability and the Corporation. The conference’s call for papers is here, with an August 15 deadline. The conference is sponsored by the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative and The Feminism and Legal Theory Project.

One possible topic mentioned for conference papers is directly relevant to the subjects highlighted by the reports on asbestos use and/or working with dusty mammoth tusks. That topic is:

“Regulatory responses to the vulnerabilities produced by corporations including, in particular, questions of worker welfare, protection and environmental justice.”

The conference website page describes the conference as follows:

“Vulnerability, understood as a universal and constant part of the human condition, is an important paradigm within which to consider and evaluate the ways in which states respond (or fail to respond) to individual, structural and community catastrophes. This workshop will build on the notion of a responsive state and consider the relationship between corporate structures, vulnerability, and state responsiveness. In the first instance, we recognize that increasingly corporations—whether operating on a local, national or transnational basis—act in ways that can either exacerbate or alleviate human vulnerability. Corporations can cause or complicate the inherent vulnerability of their employees and their dependents, as well as exploit the ecology and vulnerability of our natural and created environments. How should the state respond to this powerful potential for benefit or harm that is lodged in a “private” institutional actor? In addition, corporations may themselves be conceptualized as vulnerable entities. The corporation itself has been recognized as a “person” under the US Constitution, entitled to legal rights and protections and as a holder of human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. How does the concept of corporate personhood differ from that of the natural person in law and what are the implications of those differences for state responsiveness and regulatory policy?”

The conference website also provides a range of possible topics. The complete list is:

The identification as corporations as rights-bearers and the implications of the disembodiment of rights protection;

The transfer of power from the state to the corporation and implications for individuals as citizens/consumers/subjects/objects of state-like power;

The implications of the conceptualisation of corporations as legal persons with standing;

Regulatory responses to the vulnerabilities produced by corporations including, in particular, questions of worker welfare, protection and environmental justice;

State, regional and international responses to perceived corporate and market vulnerability and the vulnerabilities that may emerge from such responses;

Distinctions between human vulnerability and corporate vulnerability and implications of such distinctions for appropriate state responses;

The potential for the Corporate Social Responsibility and Business and Human Rights movements to enhance theories of appropriate state and corporate responses to vulnerability;

Connections and disconnections between experiences of vulnerability by and of the corporation between the Global North and the Global South.

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