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“The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” says Raymond M. Brown, attorney and cofounder of the International Justice Project, speaking at DiversityInc’s two-day learning event. Brown and his wife, Wanda Akin, spent their life savings traveling to Darfur, setting up their nonprofit and fighting for social justice.
Brown’s firsthand accounts of the murderous atrocities in Sudan had many in the packed room of more than 150 corporate leaders in tears, but Sudan is not the only nation violating human rights. Whether it’s the proposed legislation criminalizing same-sex conduct in Uganda or gender inequities in Japan and China, human-rights injustices conflict with the strong corporate values embedded in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity—especially for organizations currently doing business globally.
DiversityInc’s global research in 12 countries was previewed at the event and an executive summary will be available soon on www.DiversityIncBestPractices.com. For information on DiversityInc’s next event, click here.
How can global business operations deal with oppressive regimes or policies or corrupt governments? What are the legal ramifications?
Brown raised these and other thought-provoking questions while providing a historical backdrop. For example, a critical legal document created after World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “articulated that there are some rights that belong to every member of our species that cannot be taken away,” said Brown. Companies, global or domestic, that violate basic human-rights laws risk damaging their brand.
Raised in a low-income Black neighborhood in Jersey City, N.J., during the civil-rights movement, Brown recalled the Woolworth sit-ins and the negative impact segregation had on that company’s brand.
These are issues, explained Brown, “that have to do with trust between business and customers. So the question of human rights is not just a question of justice but of being [actively involved] with respect to change. If you’re doing international business, you have to understand the nature of this issue. You can’t just sit down one day and say, ‘We’re going to do human rights.’ It’s got to be part of the very fabric of the company.”
“When I talk to clients about going overseas, I try to talk to them about the human-rights impact … the future,” he said.
For instance, if the pending anti-gay legislation passes in Uganda—which means it’s likely that it could be adopted by other African countries—and your company is anchored in that country, it faces the risk of a five-year penalty for just being aware of employing a gay or lesbian individual. “So doesn’t it make sense to develop an impact analysis now?” asked Brown. “It’s just good business sense.”
Brown works in the litigation department at Greenbaum & Rowe, is chair of its White Collar Defense & Corporate Compliance Practice Group and hosts the Emmy Award–winning New Jersey Network program “Due Process.” He previously taught International Criminal Law in the Seton Hall/American University Program in Cairo and at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations.