Social justice, business and the pursuit of sustainability

Join us in Oslo in December to explore the complex, interconnected questions concerning social justice and human rights in the pursuit of sustainability, with a particular focus on the role of business and of state regulation of business.

The adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 have given new impetus to the debate on how to achieve sustainability, at the same time sharpening the debates on how to achieve it. Questions of social justice have a prominent place in this discourse.

As this SMART Conference will address, there remains a significant risk that the pursuit of sustainability will fall victim to vested interests, negatively impacting on industrial development in emerging economies, or fail to effectively navigate the emerging political struggle, including over the social impacts implied by the transition to sustainability.

Division of labour between states and private market actors

The discussion of the role of business in securing the social foundation for humanity within planetary boundaries goes to the heart of the discussion of the division of labour and responsibility between states, domestically and internationally, on the one hand, and private actors, on the other. While states have an overarching responsibility in setting domestic and international frameworks to protect the environment and human rights and secure the social basis for their peoples, well-known gaps and incoherencies in the regulatory framework, inform the recognition that we cannot rely solely on a compartmentalised and fragmented regulatory framework to promote contributions to sustainability by international businesses.

There is also no clear public/private distinction between the state and business. In some instances, states and other public bodies are directly involved in business, notably as controlling shareholders and as institutional investors. Conversely, there are prominent cases of strong corporate influence and outright corporate capture of legislation and of regulatory enforcement. More benignly, companies also provide public services. A holistic perspective, encompassing public, private and hybrid forms of business, must therefore inform a discussion of the contribution of business to sustainability.

This conference will explore the complex, interconnected questions concerning social justice and human rights with a particular focus on the role of business and of state regulation of business. We have invited contributions from all relevant disciplines to submit proposals within or accross the themes of conceptual or theoretical discussions on fundamental aspects of sustainability; policy coherence for global sustainability and the role of business and business regulation in securing the social foundation for humanity within planetary boundaries. 

The Conference will be open to all interested including scholars, policy-makers, students and practitioners.



09.30 - 10.00: Coffee, tea and registration 
10.00 - 10.15: Opening of the Conference by Dean-Elect Ragnhild Hennum, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo

10.15 - 11.00: KEYNOTE. Chair: Beate Sjåfjell

  • The business of sustainability: Time to Press the Reset Button? Surya Deva, City University of Hong Kong

11.00 - 12.00: SESSION 1: SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE. Chair: Charlotte Villiers

  • The Social Dimension in Corporate Sustainability, Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo
  • Social Justice, Growth and Sustainability: Conflicts and Resolutions? Lorraine Talbot, University of Birmingham

12.00 - 12:45: Lunch


  • Social Justice, Human Flourishing, Human Responsibility and Property Rights, Janet Dine, University of London
  • ‘Nice words’ in a corporate capitalist system, Charlotte Villiers, University of Bristol
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Litigated: towards a theory of corporate accountability in the Anthropocene, Mark B. Taylor, University of Oslo / Fafo

14.45 -15.00: Coffee/tea break


  • Contributing to SDG implementation while not causing harm: advancing the governance of responsible business conduct by connecting the SDGs and Business & Human Rights, Karin Buhmann, Jonas Jonsson and Mette Fisker, all from Copenhagen Business School
  • The effectiveness of the Dutch National Contact Point’s specific instance procedure, Sander van t’Foort, Tineke Lambooy and Aikaterini Argyrou, all from Nyenrode Business University
  • Improving “Global Governance through Goals” within the Polycentrism: Ecological Integrity and Business Regulation, Ernani Contipelli, UNOCHAPECO

16.45 - 17.00: Closing of day 1, by Lorraine Talbot
17.00 - 18.00: Drinks reception for all participants
18.30: Speaker's dinner - Restaurant Ahaan, Hegdehaugsveien 22


08.30 - 09.00: Mingling - coffee, tea, fresh fruit


  • More urban gardens, less food waste, innovative ways to achieve SDG 2, Alexandra Ribeiro, CETRAD
  • Sustainable Business as a tool for Social Justice: The case of Nigeria, Simisola Akintoye, De Montfort University (virtual presentation)

10.00 - 10.15: Coffee/tea break

10.15 - 12.00: SESSION 5: GENDER, SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ROLE OF THE STATE. Chair: Charlotte Villiers

  • Women, social justice and the pursuit of sustainability: does the Revised Treaty on Business and Human Rights offer a way forward? Roseanne Russell, University of Bristol
  • Environmental Rights and the tension between State interest and marginalised groups: The role of regional agreements on public participation, Adure Uzo-Peters, University of Ibadan
  • The role of State regulation and businesses towards sustainability and sustainable development: the case of Angola, Hannah Hills, The Governance Group, João Francisco and Isabel Mota Borges, University of Oslo

12.00 - 13.00: Lunch

13.00 -14.45: SESSION 6: FINANCE, THE ECONOMY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE. Chair: Lorraine Talbot

  • Sustainable Finance and Corporate Governance: implementing synergies among shareholder interests and societal stakeholders in the digital age, Vinicius Vizzotto, VU Amsterdam
  • Financial inclusion through digital finance: perspectives and challenges, Xenia Karametaxas and Kern Alexander, both from the University of Zurich
  • Infinite resources, finite money? On the paradoxes of legal-policy assumptions or how to build a non-equitable, unsustainable society, Liviu Damsa, Birmingham City University

14.45 - 15.00: Coffee/tea break

15.00 - 15.45: Panel debate / Joint discussion. Chair: Beate Sjåfjell

15.45 - 16.00: Closing of the Conference, by Beate Sjåfjell

Side event: Sustainability in the Fasion Industry: Mission Impossible?

In the evening on 3 December, the SMART project is organising a side event to this conference about sustainability in the fashion industry. The side event requires a separate registration. Please click here to see information about this side event and how to register for it. 




Published Sep. 2, 2019 8:30 AM - Last modified Sep. 29, 2020 3:27 PM