Trade, Investment, Environment, and Human Rights

The details
Essex Law School
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
20 October 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

LLM M10A12 International Human Rights Law (Economic Relations),
LLM M1AA12 International Human Rights and Economic Law,
LLM M1AA24 International Human Rights and Economic Law

Module description

This module looks at the interaction between principles governing international trade and foreign direct investment on the one hand, and principles governing respect for human rights on the other.

International trade and investment have two different impacts on basic rights: they can strengthen respect for them, as will be seen when trade sanctions are imposed to force a country to comply with certain standards, or they can be a medium by which those rights are weakened, as will be seen when considering the pressures of free movement of capital, goods and services that are at the heart of trade and investment regimes, and can potentially weaken environment protection, access to medicines, and protections for labour.

These relationships between rights, trade, and investment are examined in:

1. The standards set by the GATT /World Trade Organization and certain regional trade agreements; and
2. World Bank policies, investment treaties between states, and agreements between multinational companies and states.

On the side of basic rights, we examine:

1. international labour rights;
2. international environmental standards that raise human rights issues; and
3. standards governing intellectual property rights and the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

These rights and their relationship to trade and investment are important per se, but also contain principles that can be applied to other rights, such as the right to an adequate standard of living. Students often explore these in their essays and dissertations.

Along with the law, attention is paid to the ethical, political, and economic arguments that provide an essential framework to understanding the concrete issues. We look closely at the ways fundamental rights can be made operational in an economic context; at the relationship between basic rights and wealth creation; at the role played by state sovereignty in regulating economic relations, and at the operations of the World Trade Organization and World Bank that raise human rights issues. The course combines these general considerations with detailed treatment of some concrete cases so as to see the practical effect of linking trade and fundamental rights.

Students will have the opportunity to do practical work in this area with the Essex Business and Human Rights Project (http://www.essex.ac.uk/ebhr/) and the Human Rights Law Clinic

Module aims

The module will provide the students with the necessary knowledge and understanding of the complex interaction between human rights law and international economic law. It will equip the students with a robust understanding of international trade and investment legal frameworks as well as the opportunities and constraints presented by these frameworks on the protection of workers, environment and human rights.

Module learning outcomes

Upon the completion of the module,

1. Students will gain a basic understanding of the international legal standards governing cross-border economic activity and of international human rights standards.
2. Students will be able to navigate through the complex interaction between international economic law and international human rights law.
3. Students will develop a nuanced understanding of the ways in which legal standards protecting trade and investment can advance as well as constrain human rights, labour and environmental protection in different contexts.
4. Students will develop critical and analytical skills relating to impact of international trade and investment on human rights, workers, and the environment.

Module information

Please note that LW917 – Trade, Investment, and Human Rights is different in its coverage from LW922 – Business and Human Rights. LW917 is primarily focused on the role of governments, and intergovernmental organisations in trade and investment relations, whereas LW922 focuses on the human rights and environmental norms governing the activities of the private commercial corporation, of private lending banks, and of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation which lends to the private sector.

Topic Outline
1. Trade, Standards, and Rights: Background Issues
2. The opening of markets; the integration of markets; and the protection of basic rights and standards
3. Free trade, investment and fundamental rights: WTO; World Bank, and transnational investment agreements
4. Market integration and fundamental rights:
5. Trade, investment and issues of sustainable development
6. The impact of international trade and investment on
a. International labour rights
b. Standards of environmental protection.
c. Intellectual property rights and the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be taught via weekly 2-hour seminars. The module teaching team will upload all relevant teaching materials on Moodle. You will find reading lists, the textbook, weekly handouts or PPS notes on Moodle. The materials in question are designed both to help you navigate the material to be covered in the seminars and to equip you to analyse the required readings. You will be expected to have completed the required readings in advance of your seminars.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay (LW917-7-AU Trade, Investment, Environment, Human Rights)    100% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Anil Yilmaz Vastardis, email: ayilma@essex.ac.uk.
Law Education Office, pgtlawqueries@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Titilayo Adebola
University of Aberdeen
Lecturer in Law
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information
Essex Law School

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