Our story begins with a dream.
Not a dream born of the subconscious, but rather the collective dreaming that stems from the convergence of determined minds. Our dream has to do with ending corporate impunity and allowing consumers to buy products that are untainted by exploitative supply chains. Our dream is that we live in a world where supply chain boycotts are a thing of the past. A world in which goods are produced ethically and consumers and workers are transformed into partners in the global economy. Our dream is to make the US market accountable to people and the planet. And, it’s by this dream that we hope to change the world.
Hi, we’re Corporate Accountability Lab and we have a crazy idea--we think corporations should be held responsible for what happens in their supply chains. We think the world would be a better place if stores in the U.S. weren’t able to sell stuff to American citizens that is produced at the expense of other human beings’ rights, well being, or dignity. By that we mean products that are assembled by victims of human trafficking, by children, or by people in dangerous work environments shouldn’t wind up on store shelves. And we are working on a number of innovative ways to make that a reality. We focus on devising strategies that utilize unexpected areas of law, like intellectual property, contract and trade law, to stop corporate abuse--strategies that have traditionally been neglected in human rights litigation, but hold vast potential to curb corporate greed.
The dream started back in 2009 when CAL co-founders Charity and Chris met in law school. Chris had just finished his masters in theology and Charity had just come back from plantation monitoring in South America. They both had some big ideas about ways the law could be used to hold corporations accountable for the atrocities they were committing around the world. They began collaborating on accountability work (e.g., Adiós Uribe campaign) and discovered they shared a common commitment to ethical supply chains and to developing a style of lawyering that was based in collaboration and innovation.
Meanwhile, the human rights litigation field underwent a massive transformation between 2010-2013. Over those three years, three foundational Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United v. FEC, Mohammed v. Palestinian Authority , Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum) greatly diminished the power U.S. courts had to hold U.S. corporations accountable for human rights atrocities they commit abroad. Meaning that people practicing human rights litigation against corporations were in hot water.
Charity was one of those people. After graduating from law school, she went into human rights litigation against corporations only to face repeated losses based on the Supreme Court’s rulings. After spending the better part of five years seeing these cases shut down for extra-territoriality, she began to rethink how alternative fields of law could be utilized to litigate against corporations effectively.
Fortunately, Chris had been contemplating the same thing. While Charity went into human rights litigation after law school, Chris, eager to learn about the nuances of intellectual property (IP) law and its possible application to protecting human rights, joined an IP firm. After four years of learning about the intricacies of their chosen fields, Charity and Chris felt like it was time to make their shared dream a reality. After a year with CAL, Chris moved into an advisory role, and Charity took the helm.
And, from there, the rest is history.
Corporate Accountability Lab’s approach to law brings together theology, legal expertise, partnerships with affected communities, and grassroots advocacy to address one of the world’s most complex social problems: the abuse of the poor and destruction of the environment by corporations in the global economy. CAL designs new, and reframes old, legal strategies to diversify the tools available to human rights and corporate accountability advocates, and to ensure accountability keeps pace with the movement of global capital. Learn more about our model here.
CAL is hosted in the offices of the 8th Day Center for Justice in downtown Chicago. In 2017, CAL became a member of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.