Andrew Lerch, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre


Below, Andrew Lerch describes his experience studying abroad in London and interning at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

My name is Andrew Lerch and I am a junior at the University of Connecticut, majoring in Political Science and Human Rights.

Last semester, as part of the UConn in London Human Rights Program, I had the incredible privilege of interning with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) at their London headquarters. The BHRRC is a human rights NGO and the world’s largest and only free global information hub on matters relating to business and human rights. While also revealing the human rights performance and policies of over 5,600 companies around the world, in over 180 companies, the BHRRC is the primary source in the field of business and human rights for numerous advocates, businesspeople, governments, investors and the United Nations. Through their three-pronged mission of building corporate transparency, strengthening corporate accountability, and empowering advocates, the BHRRC helps the vulnerable to eradicate abuse in a wide variety of areas, including labor rights, conflict over natural resources, internet freedom, privacy and freedom of expression, children, pollution and climate change, discrimination, access to medicines, security, tax avoidance, and trade investment agreements. One major way that the BHRRC executes its mission is by seeking and publicizing company responses to allegations of rights abuses, and pursuing the companies that fail to respond to allegations. They have a 70% global response rate from these companies.

The BHRRC is an international organization, with offices in London and New York, and a global research network with bases in Brazil, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand, UK, Ukraine, and the United States. Their comprehensive website (business-humanrights.org) is updated hourly with reports from around the world. The website can be used to check a company’s human rights record and uncover any of the issues I listed above. Their free Weekly Update e-newsletter has over 14,000 subscribers worldwide. In addition to the Weekly Update, the BHRRC regularly composes briefing papers, bulletins, and staff-generated blogs, all of which are featured on the website.

In my internship with the BHRRC, I worked closely with their Western Europe Researcher & Representative, primarily focusing on the BHRRC’s Government Action Project. I also researched matters related to the topics listed on their website such as UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and National Action Plans on business and human rights, and updated the respective sections. Government Action Project, the complete findings of which were just recently released on the BHRRC website, successfully worked to create the first public database analyzing governments’ actions on business and human rights. My work on this project consisted of sending out a BHRRC-developed questionnaire on business and human rights activities to various government representatives, primarily in Western Europe, and following up with them to offer assistance and encouragement in completing the survey. Dealing directly and extensively with these representatives gave me an invaluable, firsthand look into the daily functioning of various government agencies and provided me with insight into the broad spectrum of responsiveness or lack thereof from governmental agencies.

In addition to working on the Government Action Project and BHRRC’s website, I was also responsible for assisting with preparations for the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. Held annually in Geneva, the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights is the largest global gathering for multi-stakeholder dialogue on business and human rights. At this past forum, the BHRRC hosted a panel about applying the UN Guiding Principles in local contexts. The panel included a wide variety of international actors, including representatives from Human Rights Watch, Nestle, Oxfam America, and Microsoft. I was asked to prepare bios for each of these organizations so that they could be introduced at the beginning of the panel discussion. I also worked with a few other staff at the BHRRC to maintain a live updates page for the forum on the BHRRC website. Participating in this concrete gathering of the many of the most important players in the business and human rights community gave me a sense of the tremendous impact that individual organizations can have in advancing a universal human rights agenda.

Finally, a major benefit of my internship, one that set it apart from some others, was that I was not removed from the day to day operations of BHRRC or senior management of the organization. In fact, my desk was right next to that of the Executive Director, who impressed me daily with his intellect and passion. The open architecture of the BHRRC London office is consistent with their philosophy and operations, and made the internship unparalleled to any other opportunity as a learning experience.

Beyond my internship, participating in the UConn in London Human Rights Program was an incredibly beneficial experience. Coming into the program, I was apprehensive, as this was the pilot semester of the Human Rights part of the program. However, my apprehension quickly dissipated when I saw how dedicated and qualified the UConn in London staff were and how well they were connected to the greater London community. If you have any interest in studying human rights or working in the field of human rights, I strongly encourage you to consider this program, as London is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, making it a natural fit for a global human rights experience.