When Does Media Attention Help Diffuse an International Human Rights Controversy
The automatic response of many companies caught in international human rights controversies is to avoid talking to the media at all cost. The question is whether this is a good strategy ever and if so when. Refusing to talk to the media means that the story the media hears and likely publishes comes solely from those attacking the company. If the company wants to have any type of level playing field, it will need to be willing to talk to the media.
If a company decides to speak with the media, the next question is on what topics. In some circumstances, the company may have a counter point on the facts. In others, the discussion is really about remedies. There is a lot of discussion about cobalt mining right now and we will see how various companies that rely upon cobalt respond to those stories. Some lessons may be learned. There will often be balancing that needs to be explained. For example, cobalt is absolutely necessary to keep us all connected, that is, look at your cell phone and in there you may not see it but there is cobalt. Likewise, the U.S. and the rest of the world wants to increase solar energy but most of those panels are made in China and there are human rights issues related to their production. Then there is the basic flight or stay and try to remedy debate. Is a company better serving a local population by staying in a location but trying to remedy the shortfalls in employment rights and the like or is it better to leave that area? This is not easy to explain in soundbites but silence may be much worse for the company.
Luckily, there will be a panel discussion on these topics on December 10 (see link here). The panel will include a highly experienced journalist who has worked for year for the BBC and ABC, Ian Pannell. Also on the panel will be in-house counsel for the New York Times, Dana Green. Our own Tom Wilson, who has represented companies on international human rights matters now for over 25 years. There will also be panels on the maritime industry and international human rights and on access to justice issues.
This is a free event sponsored by the International Bar Association and by the International Human Rights Committee of the State Bar of Texas.
Ethics CLE hours will be available.
This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.