Symposium: Colonisation in, of and through Business & Human Rights

Date: Time: 09:00 Location: Black Box Theater/hybrid

April 2023
Tilburg University, the Netherlands

Colonialism is historically recognised as the practice of subjugation of people and appropriation of land put in place by European nations on the other continents between the XV and XX centuries. But it is much more than this. Since its inception, the term could be associated also with the activities of some multinational enterprises, mano larga of European colonial states. But even when colonialism formally ended, the term continued to be associated with Western businesses exercising economic power in developing countries. Beyond this, colonialism could be associated with corporate capture, when businesses attempt to influence political and legislative processes. It can also be connected to radical capitalism in terms of the exploitation of the world’s resources. Some have even associated colonialism with the human rights language because, despite its apparent universalism, human rights originated in the West and are often used to export Western concepts, such as neo-liberalism, globally. Furthermore, although business and human rights (BHR) as a discipline emerged precisely to counter the governance gaps and imbalances created by the power of transnational corporations, often described as neo-colonialist global actors, the field of BHR is not itself exempt from a neo-colonialist or TWAIL critique. Indeed, some critics accuse business and human rights litigation and emerging mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence laws of imposing the extraterritorial application of Western laws to corporations abusing human rights in developing countries. Other scholars instead, consider the business and human rights field as a victim of colonialism. They argue that corporations are in the process of colonising the BHR field by increasingly shaping its discourse and agenda.  

The goal of the symposium is to reflect on the various meaning of colonisation in, of and through business and human rights. What are the multiple relations between colonialism, business and human rights? The symposium aims at analysing this question from a 360-degree angle. We invite scholars from all social sciences and any country to present their different perspectives on this pressing question.


  • 09:00-09:25 Registration and coffee
    Welcome by Dr. Dalia Palombo
  • 09:30-10:20 Keynote speech by Prof. Dr. Florian Wettstein. Colonization In, Of and Through Business and Human Rights: Setting the Scene.
  • 10:20-10:30 Coffee break
  • 10:30-11:45 Panel 1 – Systemic Colonialism in Business & Human Rights
    Chair: Dalia Palombo
    Daniel Aguirre. Business, Human Rights, and Economic Injustice: The Missing Pillar of Global Solidarity.
    Nicky Touw and Jindan-Karena (‘Nina’) Mann. Relocalizing Justice: Addressing Colonial Legacies Through Business and Human Rights Cases in Global North Courtrooms.
    Shahd Hammouri. The Beauty of Small Things? Individualism as the Agenda of Corporate Interest.
    Nazrin Huseinzade. The Сorporate Struggle to Effect Social Change: Colonial Atavism or a Sign of Progress?
  • 11:45-11:55 Coffee break
  • 11:55 -13:10 Panel 2 - Colonialism In, Of and Through Law & Business
    Chair: Chiara Macchi
    Akinwumi Ogunranti. Decolonizing the ISDS.
    Ekaterina Aristova. Adjudicating Human Rights Claims Against Multinationals: The Jurisdictional Reasonableness Test.
    Alexia Benchimol. Tax Treaty Law and Neo-Colonialism: a Case Study of the Double Tax Conventions Concluded Between Spain and Latin American States.
    Carsten Konig. Towards a Private Rights-Based Approach for the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive: Less Neo-Colonialism, More Legal Certainty.
  • 13:10-14:25 Lunch break
  • 14:25-15.40 Panel 3 - Colonialism In, Of and Through Human Rights
    Chair: Nadia Bernaz
    Andrea Del Forno. Big Techs and Algorithmic Colonization.
    Begüm Kilimcioğlu, Thalia Kruger and Gamze Erdem Türkelli. Righting the Wrongs of the Past: Degrowth Rather than Colonialism.
    Ilayda Eskitascioglu. What Can We Learn from a Feminist Critique for Decolonization within Business and Human Rights Field? Lessons Learned from Turkish, South African and Colombian Experiences.
    Alysha Shivji. The Technology of Racism, Racial Capitalism, and Business and Human Rights.
  • 15:40-15:50 Coffee break
  • 15:50 - 17:05 Panel 4 - Colonialism Through Business & Human Rights Legislation
    Chair: Jindan-Karena (‘Nina’) Mann
    Elisa Ruozzi. Colonisation via Conditionality: Sustainability Requirements as a Proxy for Extraterritorial Application of EU Environmental Law.
    Debadatta Bose. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – French Values for the Rest.
    Caroline Omari Lichuma. Colonial Reverberations in Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence Laws (mHRDD): Centering the West and Othering the Rest.
    Jao Victor Palermo and Eduardo Saad-Diniz. Decolonizing Modern Slavery: Implications for the Business and Human Rights Framework.
  • 17:05-17:15 Coffee break
  • 17:15 - 18:30 Panel 5 - Colonialism, Business & Human Rights Across Boundaries
    Chair: Rose Wangui Kimotho
    Luiza Pigozzo Rocha. The Rooted Colonial Heritage of Permissibility to Subjugate People and Appropriate Their Lands Manifesting Through European Corporations’ Practices in Brazilian Regions Inhabited by Indigenous Communities.
    Kebene Wodajo. African Justice System as an Epistemic Site of Production: a Case for Host State Human Rights Litigation for Corporate Impunity.
    Mark Gibney. Legal Imperialism by Other Means.
    Hassan Ahmad. The Colonial Corporate Immunity: Compensation, The East India Company, and Jurisdiction in the Periphery.


University of Tilburg & Working Group on Business and Human Rights of the Netherlands Network of Human Rights Research (NNHRR).