Law, Business and Human Rights

Law, Business and Human Rights

Bridging the Gap

Edited by Robert C. Bird, Daniel R. Cahoy and Jamie Darin Prenkert

The intersection of business and human rights contains substantial economic, social, and political implications. Global business enterprises and civil society groups must establish a constructive and meaningful dialogue in order to work cooperatively to protect human rights. In this innovative book, the authors explore the role of firms in respecting human rights and explain the need for a better understanding of the human rights of affected stakeholders. The goal is to draw attention to these issues and generate common ground between two potentially disparate and conflicting interests.

Chapter 7: The human rights-related aspects of indigenous knowledge in the context of common law equitable doctrines and the Kiobel decision

David Orozco, Kevin McGarry and Lydie Pierre-Louis

Subjects: business and management, business ethics and trust, corporate social responsibility, law - academic, human rights


The San people are indigenous hunter-gatherer groups from South Africa. They have used the Hoodia cactus plant along with traditional knowledge about the plant to suppress their appetite during long hunting expeditions. A South African research organization patented the molecule and then sold the commercialization rights to Pfizer for $21 million. The San people had no knowledge of the transaction and did not receive any benefit until international social action led to a modest benefit-sharing program many years later (Bratspies, 2007). A significant portion of the world’s biodiversity and genetic material exists within indigenous lands and a race is currently underway to exploit indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, land and resources (Bratspies, 2007). Access to these resources has been propertized under western intellectual property (IP) regimes to generate significant wealth. Under the current international IP law framework, however, indigenous knowledge is typically relegated to the commons and at its worst the system legitimizes the transfer of exclusive ownership of biological resources and traditional knowledge from indigenous peoples to western individuals and corporations without offering any recognition, reward or protection to indigenous communities (Bratspies, 2007). These practices have engendered a heated debate that draws parallels to past instances of neocolonialism and exploitation. As illustrated in the above example, corporations sometimes commercially exploit indigenous knowledge and in the process ignore the interests and rights of indigenous communities.

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