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2023/2024  KAN-CCBLV2301U  Business & Human Rights: Governance, SDGs and fair transitions

English Title
Business & Human Rights: Governance, SDGs and fair transitions

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
Duration One Quarter
Start time of the course First Quarter
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Min. participants 40
Max. participants 50
Study board
Study Board for BSc and MSc in Business, Language and Culture, MSc
Course coordinator
  • Karin Buhmann - Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC)
Main academic disciplines
  • CSR and sustainability
  • Business Law
  • Globalisation and international business
Teaching methods
  • Face-to-face teaching
Last updated on 08-02-2023

Relevant links

Learning objectives
At the end of the course, students should be able to:
  • Describe and critically discuss the role and responsibilities of businesses with regards to human rights.
  • Explain, discuss and apply key concepts related to business responsibilities for human rights.
  • Relate the field of business and human rights to connections, complementarity and potential conflicts between businesses' SDG contributions, and a fair transition to low-carbon economies.
  • Reflect upon and apply the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs) to empirical cases or and evidence.
  • Reflect upon and discuss business and human rights opportunities and challenges for business enterprises in regard to the contemporary sustainability governance agenda and deliver well-argued recommendations,
Course prerequisites
The most important qualification you need is intellectual curiosity to understand how the emergence of the discourse on Business & Human Rights (BHR) has matured into solid expectations of business, and what this means for business organizations and their operations, as well as civil society and public organizations which affect a business’ social license to operate. Moreover, it is an advantage to be interested in interactions between BHR and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a fair transition to a low-carbon economy, as we use those two major sustainability challenges as examples throughout the course. Students planning or returning from internships in companies or other organizations may find a particular interest in the influence that BHR is having on wider sustainability governance and management in companies.
Business & Human Rights: Governance, SDGs and fair transitions:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 10 pages
Assignment type Essay
Release of assignment Subject chosen by students themselves, see guidelines if any
Duration Written product to be submitted on specified date and time.
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Autumn
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Students that have not passed the ordinary exam must submit a new essay.
Description of the exam procedure

The exam essay must be based in part on the course literature and reflect the student’s learning during the course. The essay is graded according to the 7-point scale.


The essay is an opportunity for the student to engage in some depth with a particular issue within the broad area of topics covered by the Business & Human Rights agenda. The essay may discuss a particular human rights challenge (such as working conditions, local community impacts related to the green transition, or human rights impacts in the context of wider SDG contributions); a particular sector from the perspective of one or more specific human rights issues; or a particular case from the perspective of a business or its business relations, civil society/campaigners, media or national or international policy makers or regulators. The essay offers the student the opportunity to work with a particular issue as an entry point for analysis and reflection on a broader selection of topics covered by the course.


Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

The course provides students with comprehensive knowledge of the field of business & human rights (BHR), taking the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and challenges confronting fair transitions to low-carbon economies as concrete focal points for theoretical exploration and practical application. Starting from an introduction to human rights and global sustainability governance, the roles and responsibilities of business with regards to human rights will be explored and contextualized. During the course, the SDGs and fair transitions serve to place BHR normativity, challenges, dilemmas and actions into context. We will consider these issues in regard to functional business tasks, such as value chain management, stakeholder management, financial management, communication and reporting. Managerial and business leadership perspectives will be the main focus, but we also consider the interaction between state, business and civil society.


The course gives students an introduction into the emergence and key elements of the BHR regime and thorough insights into its key normative elements and their implications for business operations. Students will understand the role that the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) play in business enterprises and the important role that BHR concepts such as risk-based due diligence play for major sustainability governance developments in regard to social as well as environmental and climate change challenges and societal needs, globally, in the EU and in the Nordic countries. As part of this, students will be exposed to expectations that businesses consider their human rights impacts when engaging in SDG contributions; dilemmas in regard to balancing climate change mitigation and human rights risks for communities hosting wind farms, hydro-power plants or transition minerals mining; how BHR knowledge, human rights risk/impact assessment and due diligence may support business innovation in regard to  SDG contributions and ensuring a fair transition addressing the needs of future generations without compromising the human rights of current ones; and BHR requirements in regard to sustainable finance and corporate sustainability reporting.


The course equips students with insights, abilities and competences on the significance for organizations engaged in economic activities to understand and manage human rights impacts. Human rights are increasingly of importance to the conduct of business organizations of all sizes, financial actors, and public organizations. Direct or indirect contributions to abuse of human rights may increase the risk profile of an organization, whether private or public. Respect for human rights may enhance an organization’s opportunities for innovation, access to finance and successful stakeholder management. The course enables students to engage in activities related to organization, policy and strategy, value chain management, human rights impact analysis and due diligence, as well as critically reflecting on the human rights implications of broader sustainability governance challenges and opportunities.


The course deploys a combination of teaching forms. Lectures provide the fundamental theoretical framing. Interaction during the course with representatives of companies and other organizations deepens students’ understanding of implications of the current BHR agenda’s implications for business management and its connections to other major sustainability governance issues. Cases, documentaries, reports, exercises and student-led debates will provide students with a hands-on approach and ability to apply theory and BHR normativity.


As an academic field, BHR is an interdisciplinary field, it is novel, and still emergent. As a field of practice, the same applies. As a result, we do not always have set answers – and much depends on the argumentation. The course is designed to equip students with the relevant qualifications in this regard. Interactive parts of the course generally take the form of discussions, students asking questions, and doing exercises and cases.


Nordic Nine: The course develops students’ disciplinary skills and transformational capacities through knowledge with a foundation in the BHR regime and its influence on wider corporate sustainability; cultivating curiosity about connections, complementarity and dilemmas, recognizing and explaining expectations on business to identify and manage human rights impacts, and providing students with knowledge on how to contribute. Such knowledge is built in part in connection to current business commitments to the SDGs as well as the dilemmas confronting a fair ‘green’ transition addressing the needs of future generation without compromising those of current ones. The course is anchored in values on businesses’ human rights responsibilities recognized in interdisciplinary literatures, governance instruments and business commitments. It advances students’ understanding of dilemmas around those values and how to overcome them through critical thinking and constructive collaboration, and their action-oriented capacities for producing prosperity and protecting that of future generations, growing by collaborating and creating value for local communities.

Description of the teaching methods
The course will contribute to the development of students’ competences through a combination of lectures, invited guest lecturers with specific experience in Business & Human Rights dilemmas and opportunities, cases, exercises and possibly field visits to one or more organizations.
Feedback during the teaching period
We encourage you to ask questions or make comments in class and form self-study groups to secure peer feedback on your work. For the period of teaching, individual feedback is offered during ‘office hours’ provided by faculty staff members teaching in the course (see day and time on Canvas).
Student workload
Teaching 30 hours
Preparation 146 hours
Exam essay 30 hours
In total 206 hours
Expected literature

Buhmann, K. (2021) Human rights: a key idea for business and society, Routledge, https:/​/​www.routledge.com/​Human-Rights-A-Key-Idea-for-Business-and-Society/​Buhmann/​p/​ book/9780367520540

The book is available online through the CBS library.


Winkler, I. T., & Williams, C. (2017). The Sustainable Development Goals and human rights: a critical early review. The International Journal of Human Rights21(8), 1023-1028.


Buhmann, K., Jonas Jonsson & Mette Fisker (2019) Do no harm and do more good too: Connecting Business & and Human Rights theory with Political CSR to help companies identify opportunities for contributing to the SDGs. Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society, 19(3) 389-403


Heffron, R.J. (2021). What is the “Just Transition”?. In: Achieving a Just Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https:/​/​doi.org/​10.1007/​978-3-030-89460-3_2


Owen, J. R., Kemp, D., Lechner, A. M., Harris, J., Zhang, R., & Lèbre, É. (2022). Energy transition minerals and their intersection with land-connected peoples. Nature Sustainability, 1-9.


Church, C., & Crawford, A. (2020). Minerals and the metals for the energy transition: Exploring the conflict implications for mineral-rich, fragile states. In The Geopolitics of the Global Energy Transition (pp. 279-304). Springer, Cham.


Ramirez, J., & Böhm, S. (2021). Transactional Colonialism in Wind Energy Investments: Energy Injustices against Vulnerable People in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Energy Research and Social Science, 78, [102135].  https:/​/​doi.org/​10.1016/​j.erss.2021.102135


Maguire, D., & Shaw, C. (2021). Fair energy transition for all-literature review, London: Climate Outreach, https:/​/​fair-energy-transition.eu/​wp-content/​uploads/​2021/​02/​FETA-Literature-Review_final.pdf


Rieu-Clarke, A. (2015). Transboundary hydropower projects seen through the lens of three international legal regimes–Foreign investment, environmental protection and human rights. International Journal of Water Governance3(1) 27-48.


Cambou, D (2020), Uncovering injustices in the green transition: Sámi rights in the development of wind energy in Sweden, Arctic Review on Law and Politics, 11, 310-333


Bright, Claire, and Buhmann, K (2021) Risk-based due diligence, climate change, human rights and the just transition. Sustainability 13(18), special issue on Business, Human Rights and the Environment, Guest editors Olga Martin-Ortega, Valerie Nelson, Renginee G.  Pillay and Fatimazahra Dehbi, DOI https:/​/​doi.org/​10.3390/​su131810454


Selected reports and studies from the United Nations on Business & Human Rights.


Teaching cases.


Detailed literature list will be available on Canvas. Journal articles etc. noted under each class session.

Last updated on 08-02-2023