The Green Rights & Warrior Lawyers Inspirathon is an innovative event open to university students at any level of study (undergraduate through doctoral) in any discipline, anywhere in the world. Part “researchathon,” part law and policy-oriented “hackathon,” the Inspirathon allows students to conduct research into a specific problem concerning the role of law in advancing environmental rights and justice, and brainstorm creative options to solve the problem.
The Inspirathon is organized in partnership with a lawyer or legal knowledge holder whose courageous and cutting-edge work to advance environmental rights and justice we at the Centre for Law & the Environment (“CLE”) think merits the informal designation “Warrior Lawyer.”
The 2023 Inspirathon is a partnership with Dr. David Boyd, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment (“SR Environment”). Through a long career as one of Canada’s and the world’s foremost environmental lawyers, Dr. Boyd has devoted his professional life to advancing human and ecosystem health through law. You can read about his accomplishments and why the CLE considers him a “Warrior Lawyer” fighting for “Green Rights” in this blog post.
The Inspirathon will contribute to Dr. Boyd’s efforts to advance the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment around the world. 160 countries, representing more than 80% of United Nations member states, now recognize this right as a legally enforceable right. The UN General Assembly followed suit in 2022.
Much of Dr. Boyd’s work has focused on how states can better understand and fulfill their obligations in relation to the right to a healthy environment. A crucial issue that needs more attention is the role that business enterprises play in relation to the right to a healthy environment.
To advance this issue, Dr. Boyd is currently preparing a report on businesses and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2024. He issued a general call for inputs for this report in September, 2023 and will hold an expert meeting in November, 2023.
This year’s Inspirathon gives the world’s university students a direct route to participate in this process. It will provide inputs for Dr. Boyd’s report in the form of case studies of the role of business in relation to the human right to a healthy environment around the globe.
These case studies will do two things: supply evidence of how businesses advance or undermine the human right to a healthy environment, and propose solutions for how international or national laws can support businesses' responsibility to respect the human right to a healthy environment.
This year’s Inspirathon builds on earlier researchathons organized by the SR Environment on environmental “sacrifice zones” and on good practices in implementing the human right to a healthy environment, which succeeded in producing hundreds of examples to inform.
As with those earlier researchathons, everyone who participates in the Inspirathon will have their names recognized in Dr. Boyd’s UN report, unless they indicate that they prefer to remain anonymous.
The Problem: Business and the Human Right to a Healthy Environment
Businesses can have a profound impact on human rights wherever they operate. Their legal responsibilities and liabilities in this field are undergoing rapid evolution. The current understanding of their role is reflected in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted in 2011. The Guiding Principles have three pillars: protect, respect and remedy.
First, states have a duty to protect everyone under their jurisdiction from human rights abuses committed by business enterprises.
Second, enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate and whatever their size or business. This means that they must conduct due diligence to identify t heir actual or potential impacts on human rights, prevent and mitigate violations, and address any adverse human rights impacts they are involved with either directly or through their business relationships.
Third, individuals and communities affected by human rights violations have a right to effective remedies. For businesses, this means they must establish or participate in effective grievance mechanisms for anyone adversely impacted by their operations.
From climate change to deforestation to species loss to plastic pollution to tailings pond collapses to oil spills to electronic waste to “forever chemicals,” businesses are implicated in many pressing environmental problems. Many of these problems, in turn, infringe people’s right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. And behind many of these problems are unintentional or deliberate failures by businesses to fulfill their responsibility to respect human rights and to participate in the provision of effective remedies for human rights abuses.
Perhaps less well known, businesses can also play constructive roles in securing the human right to a healthy environment by conducting human rights due diligence, taking responsibility for their human rights failures, participating in remedial processes in good faith, changing or abandoning harmful activities or product lines, influencing other actors with whom they have relationships to do the same, supporting human rights-protective legal or policy reforms throughout their sectors, or making protection of human rights and the environment, not profit maximization, their core mandate.
In short, there are both “bad news” and “good news” stories to be told about businesses and the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
The aim of the Inspirathon is to gather those stories in a common format that is supported by evidence, allows comparison, and identifies promising legal and policy solutions.
The Inspirathon is open to anyone currently enrolled in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree program at a university anywhere in the world. You may participate individually or as a group.
Step 1: Register
You will be asked enter some basic information about yourself and your case study. Information about you includes your name or an alias to protect your identity; an email address for correspondence; and where you attend university. Information about your case study includes the environmental human rights issue(s), enterprise(s), business sector(s) and UN Member State(s) involved (you must select at least one UN Member State but you can leave the other information about your case study blank if you are not sure about it). We encourage you to conduct a case study that has a connection to your own country, unless this would be risky or impractical.
You can participate in the Inspirathon by yourself or as a group. If you participate as a group, please have one person fill out the registration form. That person will be your main contact with the organizers.
Step 2: Conduct your research and submit your results
You can start conducting your research at any time. Results should be submitted by Monday, November 6, 2023, as a Microsoft Word file, via email to email@example.com. Your submission will have the following elements:
- Names (or aliases) of all members of your group
- An email address for correspondence
- Your university(ies), degree program(s) and department(s)
- The topic or title of your case study
- The UN Member State(s) involved in your case study. This could include a business’s home state, host state(s) where it or its affiliates operate, or state(s) where its products, services, byproducts or wastes are found. You can also indicate that your case study relates to an area beyond national jurisdiction, such as the high seas or Antarctica.
- The environmental human rights issue(s) involved in your case study (eg clean water, clean air, clean soil, healthy food, stable climate, non-toxic environment, biodiversity, Indigenous peoples, non-discrimination on the basis of age, sex, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnic origin, race, caste, socio-economic status)
- The business sector(s) involved in your case study
- The company(ies) involved in your case study
- Whether your case study is primarily a “good news” or “bad news” story
- A detailed description of your case study (maximum 1000 words). In describing your case study you should consider:
- The “Five Ws” of journalistic writing: who, what, where, when, and why
- Evidence of how business contributes (contributed) to fulfillment or violation of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, directly or through its relationships
- Evidence of how business fulfills (fulfilled) or fails (failed) to fulfill the various aspects of its responsibility to respect human rights (eg identifying actual or potential human rights impacts on human rights, preventing and mitigating violations, addressing adverse impacts they are involved with either directly or through their business relationships, establishing or participating in grievance mechanisms)
- A concise description of proposed solutions arising from your case study (maximum 250 words). In describing these solutions you should consider:
- How international or national laws and policies support or fail to support the fulfillment of businesses’ responsibility to respect the human right to a healthy environment
- How, if at all, those laws and policies should change, and any likely obstacles to such change
- Between one and five references to credible sources that support your case study, such as scholarly articles, government documents, non-governmental organization reports, court decisions and news articles.
Written submissions may be made in English, French, Italian or Spanish (the languages the CLE team can read).
We encourage you to use our pre-made report template to make your submission.
Step 3: Participate in a collaborative brainstorming session
We will invite all participants to participate in a two-hour collaborative online brainstorming session facilitated by the Director of the Centre for Law & the Environment, Dr. Stepan Wood. The purpose of these sessions will be to compare the solutions proposed for how international or national laws can support businesses’ responsibility to respect the human right to a healthy environment, and identify common themes and recommendations.
There will be two brainstorming sessions held on November 14. The first will be at 9:00 am PST and the second will take place at 8:00 pm PST. Registrants will receive more information via email.
Due to language limitations, the brainstorming sessions will be conducted in English, but the organizers will make efforts to arrange simultaneous captioning in other languages. Those who are uncomfortable speaking English can use the chat feature in French, Italian or Spanish and the organizers will translate for the group.
Step 4: Be recognized for your efforts
Everyone who participates in the Inspirathon will have their names recognized on the Inspirathon website and in Dr. Boyd’s UN report, unless they indicate that they prefer to remain anonymous. In addition, an attestation of participation will be available upon request.
To encourage participation, we plan to award several non-competitive prizes upon completion of the Inspirathon, including:
- First to register
- First to register from each world region or country
- Most imaginative submission
- Most thorough submission.
If you have questions about the Inspirathon, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
The Green Rights & Warrior Lawyers Inspirathon 2023 is presented by the Centre for Law & the Environment at the University of British Columbia, Canada, with financial support from the At the Kitchen Table Foundation and the Catalyst Collaboration Fund of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.
The Inspirathon is presented in partnership with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, and the Global Network for Human Rights & the Environment.