(photo credit: EarthRights International)
I should preface this introduction by noting that I am a pretty shy person. Talking about myself is not something that I am entirely comfortable with. But I hope this story helps articulate why I‘ve joined the team at Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL).
I knew Charity, the Legal Director and co-founder of CAL, professionally for years. During law school, I spent a summer in DC for an internship, and one night I caught a glimpse of what would become CAL. Charity and some of her law school friends (one of whom would be CAL’s other co-founder) were sitting around brainstorming ideas for legal innovations for corporate accountability. It’s common for friends to wax lyrical about how they would like to change the world, right? But this conversation was not that. It was concrete strategizing. It was not self-important or savior-esque, but rather it was practical and thoughtful.
It was the same intelligent, dedicated, and creative drive that I had read about (and later saw firsthand) from Katie Redford, co-Founder of EarthRights International (ERI). In my five years working at ERI, I had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with a number of innovative strategies for corporate accountability, in various corners of the globe. While in DC, I worked closely on Foreign Legal Assistance applications, an innovative way to get discovery (read: testimony and documents) for foreign lawyers to use in their human rights proceedings. In Myanmar, I helped lead the development of a Community-Driven Operational level Grievance Mechanism (CD-OGM), working in close collaboration with communities impacted by the country’s first Special Economic Zone.
I worked in partnership with --and often under the direction of-- creative, dedicated local lawyers and campaigners who made up our staff, partners, and community leaders. They demonstrated how to be truly thoughtful about the real and potential impacts of even well-intended strategies, how to be creative with strategies and solutions, and how to confront failure and setbacks. I am humbled by how much they taught me every day about stepping outside of my assumptions and seeking new perspectives, and importantly, how to step back.
After spending the last few years implementing specific innovations, in this new role at CAL, I will focus on helping to make sure more and more innovations like those are available.
Our backgrounds are slightly different: while Charity has years of experience with labor rights and litigation, I’ve worked on mostly non-litigation legal advocacy efforts related to impacts of large business activities on people and land. But I think this complementary experience brings added value. Corporate actors use similar tactics against communities living on lands they want, against workers in factories that they ultimately build on that land, and against people that challenges those actions. The goal is that not only other lawyers and organizations, but also impacted communities, human and environmental rights defenders, workers, and labor organizers all have the space to benefit from and contribute to CAL’s legal innovations.
In our approach to the work, we both bring an unrelenting refusal to accept the status quo when it comes to what is available for accessing remedy, justice, and accountability for individuals and groups harmed by corporate activities, and an understanding that our voice is only one of many. We don’t create all of the innovations, nor do we take the lead and the credit for their implementation. We facilitate the development of a “culture of innovation” so that the process of creating solutions and the benefits of them can be impactful and accessible.
As a law student in the beginning of my studies, I was too shy to try and contribute to those discussions with Charity and her law school colleagues, but the experience of watching them collaborate and seeing the potential for new avenues for corporate accountability really left a mark on me. I was excited to see those ideas take shape into what became CAL, and honored that I am now able to be part of it.