Dec 162014
 December 16, 2014

Teju-Book-Club-400About a year ago, the Kenan Institute for Ethics began a staff book club, modeled after a club begun by the Political Science departmental staff. Our group—made up of several Kenan staff members—meets monthly to discuss works of fiction and non-fiction that relate, broadly, to ethics. The clubs are designed to foster an informal and fun conversational space for Duke employees, and have in the past allowed engagement with authors such as John Green, Teju Cole, and Eula Biss. You can read more about the ethics book club model in a recent Duke Today article.

If you are interested in in starting your own department or school book club and would like a sample list of books or information on our model, please contact Bear Postgraduate Fellow Michaela Dwyer. In addition to our own staff book club, the Kenan Institute is able to partially sponsor additional staff books clubs throughout the university. While we are no longer accepting funding proposals for the current academic year, we will begin taking requests for 2015-2016 in July. Stay tuned to our website for more details! In the meantime, you might consider submitting a Campus Grant application (next round due February 15).


While we are not currently accepting new funding proposals for staff book clubs, please keep in mind the following specifications must be met and addressed in all proposals:

  • Clubs are open only to staff members from Duke departments and schools; clubs must be comprised entirely of Duke staff members
  • Clubs must engage issues surrounding ethics through their book selections and group conversations (sample book list available upon request)
  • Clubs should meet approximately monthly and meet on-campus, preferably during work hours
  • Clubs should be interested in convening with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Political Science, and Sanford School groups for occasional large-group discussions
  • Clubs should submit a report of activities by the end of the year
Dec 162014
 December 16, 2014

051213_bennear_balleisen_krawiec_wiener001In March, 2013, KIE Senior Fellow Kim Krawiec (Law) organized a symposium on paid organ donation as a “taboo trade.” Now the working papers from the event have been edited into a special issue of the Duke Law faculty journal Law and Contemporary Problems. The symposium united medical professionals and academics, and was supported by a Kenan Institute for Ethics faculty grant on topics of public ethics.

You can read more about the project on Krawiec’s blog. Krawiec is a co-investigator of the Recalibrating Risk project and is Kathrine Robinson Everett Professor of Law at Duke Law School.

Dec 122014
 December 12, 2014

Sinnott-ArmstrongWriting for The Conversation, KIE faculty Walter Sinnott-Armstrong explains that while our brain does, indeed, control our functions, there are times when one must take responsibility for ones choices and other times when moral thinking and behavior may be modified by problems with the brain, such as disease or injury.

Despite some rhetoric, almost nobody really believes that the fact that your brain made you do it is by itself enough to excuse you from moral responsibility. On the other side, almost everybody agrees that some brain states, such as seizures, do remove moral responsibility. The real issues lie in the middle.

What about mental illnesses? Addictions? Compulsions? Brainwashing? Hypnosis? Tumors? Coercion? Alien hand syndrome? Multiple personality disorder? These cases are all tricky, so philosophers disagree about which people in these conditions are responsible — and why. Nonetheless, these difficult cases do not show that there is no difference between seizures and normal desires, just as twilight does not show that there is no difference between night and day. It is hard to draw a line, but that does not mean that there is no line.

Dec 102014
 December 10, 2014

Duke University Provost Sally Kornbluth announced a committee to craft a new academic strategic plan for the university. She has chosen Noah Pickus, Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, as the committee’s vice chair. The committee will be chaired by Susan Lozier of the Nicholas School of the Environment.

We anticipate this to be an 18-month process that will engage a number and variety of stakeholders — faculty of course, but also students, staff, alumni and others interested in Duke’s future success and impact.  I have asked Susan and Noah to lead a committee that will solicit input from throughout the university…[to define] the overarching themes we should consider for Duke, and for higher education in general.  That will be followed by a year of intense analysis, debate and consensus-building, with the goal of delivering a new academic strategic plan by summer 2016.

Dec 082014
 December 8, 2014

jennifer-millerIn a Wall Street Journal Article, Jennifer Miller, a George C. Lamb, Jr. Regulatory Fellow with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, discusses new rules set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regulating clinical drug trials. The rules come in response to findings that a large number of clinical trials do not publish their data to the organization. There are concerns, however, on the organization’s willingness to punish those who do not follow the new guidelines.

“There’s reason for concern,” because the government did not add enforcement and monitoring capability to the existing law, says Jennifer Miller, who is a fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. She is working on a study about compliance in reporting trial results and says preliminary findings indicate oversight and enforcement by the FDA of existing regulations is weak.

Dec 052014
 December 5, 2014

DHRCatKIE-Human-Trafficking-Summary-400In October, a group of faculty from across Duke’s departments and schools were joined by scholars from other universities for a roundtable discussion on human trafficking hosted by the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. The event was organized around the residency of this year’s Visiting Fellow in Human Rights, Anne Gallagher, a former United Nations Special Adviser on Human Trafficking. The DHRC at KIE has just published a summary of the roundtable discussion compiled by Kenan Institute for Ethics undergraduate research assistant Leah Cattoti.

The diverse expertise among the participants reflects the need for interdisciplinary collaboration to address the complex dynamics of human trafficking. The roundtable brought together those with knowledge and experience from a range of fields, including law, history, social work  journalism, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and public policy. Participants discussed questions about how to frame human trafficking in ways that reflect the range of experiences, rather than simple victim narratives, and also examined why the current frame is being used in media portrayals, by the government, and by advocacy organizations.  The group also discussed changing intervention strategies, including the role of law and technology. Participants recognized that more work needs to be done to understand the process by which some individuals are identified as trafficked while other similarly situated individuals remain in the category of illegal migrants.  In addition to interdisciplinary collaboration, participants agreed that there continues to be a real need for academic-practitioner collaboration in order to improve the accessibility and relevance of academic research, as well as to meaningfully influence public policy and public discourse on human trafficking.

Dec 052014
 December 5, 2014

re1598809_helfer_stilliman_retouchedKIE Senior Fellow Laurence Helfer was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Copenhagen for his work in the field of human rights and international law, including his work with sub-regional African courts. Helfer is the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law at Duke Law School and also heads Duke Law’s Center for International and Comparative Law. The nomination for the degree came from Mikael Rask Madsen, who says:

Professor Helfer is a world leading expert in the field of human rights and international law. In recent years, together with several colleagues I have had the privilege of working with him. This collaboration has always been tremendously inspiring. Professor Helfer is not only a brilliant researcher and teacher but also an extremely dynamic person who engages himself in innovative projects that inspire the researchers and students around him.

Dec 042014
 December 4, 2014

campus-grants-400The Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Campus Grants program allows members of the Duke community to incorporate ethics into their own work. Grants of up to $500 are available to all members of the Duke community—students, faculty, and staff—to support initiatives that promote ethical or moral reflection, deliberation, and dialogue at Duke and beyond. Applications for the Spring 2015 grants will be due February 15.

Announcing the Fall 2014 Campus Grant Award Winners:

Reem Alfahad | DukeEngage/Proyecto Boston-Medellín 
Undergraduate artists from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Medellín collaborated with DukeEngage students to develop an art exhibition that will tour the United States this spring, the fourth iteration of Proyecto Boston-Medellín (PBM). The team will bring these artists to Duke to engage campus with a transnational, multilingual artistic conversation on the ethics of artistic autonomy, story telling, movement with the story, and reclaiming narratives.

Jonna McKone | MFA Program in Experimental and Documentary Arts
McKone, a second-year MFA student, is creating a site-specific sound installation in Siler City, NC, that is an extension of a multi-year film project that documents people laboring in low wage jobs after the unexpected shuttering of a region’s long-time industry. Through interweaving oral histories, historical text, lost and found sounds from the region, the experimental audio documentary explores socioeconomic isolation in rural areas and the distancing effects of globalization. 

Jenna Strucko | Center for Documentary Studies
The founders of Kao Jai Coffee—a single-origin coffee company that directly sources coffee from Thailand farmers at a farmer-satisfied price—will visit campus to discuss the implications of incorporating ethical structure into a for-profit business plan, as well as how the practical applications of an ethically driven business model function in day-to-day operations and business development.

Avery Waite, Sierra Smucker, Dr. Kristin Goss | Sanford School of Public Policy
The team’s study, “Millennial Women’s Attitudes Toward Gender-Based Organizing,” aims to understand why women’s organizations seem less appealing to younger women than to their foremothers. The team will conduct 100 in-depth interviews interested to highlight the similarities and differences in the perspectives of women from different educational backgrounds.

Nov 242014
 November 24, 2014

Treaty Me Right

Puvan J Selvanathan*

I support a treaty on Business and Human Rights. I believe that a legally-binding instrument, collectively developed and agreed upon by all stakeholders involved in protecting, respecting, and remedying human rights regarding any and all business activity, will demonstrate a global commitment to fulfilling the agenda. I have three reasons: first, I believe the United Nations is where we craft and evolve our global society; second, it will deliver satisfaction and ultimately justice; and third, we must seize the opportunity to deliver a ‘next generation’ treaty.

All About That Bass

We the Peoples determined the United Nations to be a machine to process our faith, dignity and worth as equals into a global infrastructure for justice and respect that promotes social progress and a better life for all. Since the day we switched the UN contraption ‘on’ it has also been both a mirror and measure of how well we live together in peace, whether we unite in adversity, and if our international economy and society allows us all to advance. How the ‘international civilization’ handles Business and Human Rights is a true test of whether our greatest machine is designed for perpetual motion or is a friction-ridden relic.

The treaty process is how the UN self-actualises. Treaties, resolutions and accords are the foundations, columns and beams of our global society. As we climb ever higher we rely on these structural elements to harness our hopes and shelter our insecurities from a fear of heights.  Yes the UN is byzantine, and treaty processes are equal parts myth, method, meaning and madness. But it remains the only platform that delivers with collective legitimacy. The Guiding Principles (GPs) are valid because they are a product of the UN machine.

The innovation of the GPs is how they elegantly restate the required behaviours of all actors side-by-side with each other, yet do not profess or prescribe anything more than what everyone is respectively supposed to be doing anyway. The GPs are to Business and Human Rights what the Periodic Table is to Chemistry. As mnemonic tools for the trade both the GPs and the Periodic Table succeed wonderfully, but their value is lost on anyone who is not a chemist or a human rights expert. A legally-binding framework would observe the way the elements interact with each other; establish the conditions, catalysts and inhibitors for reactions; and calibrate the tolerances to keep our experiments with each other safe and productive. I believe a treaty is not about describing what actors do in the safety of their own boats, but about setting rules of engagement between boats in international waters.

You Oughta Know

The Guiding Principles have neither delivered satisfaction nor accelerated justice. Stakeholder expectations overpromised and realities underdelivered. The rapture of endorsement by the Human Rights Council after years of tribulation suspended disbelief in actors immediately revisiting long unkept promises. Governments were and remain aware of their duty to protect, and every business considers and then factors in the consequences of disrespecting human rights as a potential risk and cost in operations. By articulating these responsibilities adjacent to each other, the GPs delineated a fence that made for good neighbours, but didn’t save the neighbourhood. Duty is ignored. Impunity persists. Remedy is remote. Victims still suffer.

Voluntary systems are suited to demonstrating goodness but not effecting global change. Those who volunteer to do more believe in worthy pursuits. They do not measure their leadership relative to laggards until they realise the laggards are not compelled to move at all. The energy of leaders will erode if society does not reinforce and reward their effort by delimiting a baseline against which all should be measured.

When delivering the Protect, Respect, Remedy framework in 2008, John Ruggie made reasonable arguments for why an overarching international legal agreement at that time would not have worked. We were all younger then. The endorsement of the GPs in 2011 by the Human Rights Council transformed the landscape of Business and Human Rights and, importantly, stakeholders expected changes for the better to come thick and fast. That has not happened. Uptake of the GPs has been slow, with the cottage industry of Business and Human Rights largely sidelined from the industrialised and commercial politics and policies that occupy the economics of our global society.

The GPs are an important milestone that reflected the maturity of the debate at a certain point, and by endorsing them the greater UN family banked their currency as acceptance in principle. That milestone points to the natural destination that a legally-binding instrument promises, and any treaty process will be rich in charting our contemporary social conditions: most notably that governments and businesses, each and both when operating across borders and domestically, are entirely conjoined in responsibility and accountability to our international civilization. The GPs suppose enough of a distinction between ‘duty’ and ‘respect’ that they are coded as separate pillars. Rather, I believe they exist on either side of an unselective, practically transparent and highly permeable membrane.

Age of Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In)

A treaty process beginning now, building on the genome of the GPs is a seminal opportunity to deliver a ‘next generation’ covenant that could be developed and ratified by all involved stakeholders. Legitimacy today is founded upon meaningful involvement and hard-won consensus among diverse and vested stakeholders. The constructs that could be tabled today would benefit from lessons on climate change, tackling ebola, coping with natural disasters, privacy and security of data, inequity and inequality, land and food. Indeed, the litany of issues considered by a multitude of actors in crafting the Sustainable Development Goals would fuel a process that truly explores what a ‘rights-based approach’ should mean.

This will certainly move beyond the comfort zone of ‘traditional’ human rights where States are unfairly required to oblige in areas over which they retain less and less control. Some of that control has been ceded to the private sector’s standards, operating procedures, codes of conduct and business cases. More interestingly, all governments now lose sleep over the cautionary tales of colourful revolutions, cultural springtimes, and occupation by have-nots who have nothing to lose.   This large and amorphous bloc of  ‘regular’ people — mostly   younger, if not already highly networked than inevitably destined to be, and increasingly aware that their future trajectory is not a projection of their parents’ past. Only businesses of the very near future can remain the hulking merged and acquired relics of a receding industrial age. Brands and analytics already define consumer choice and production patterns. This means that ‘values’ and ‘information’ will drive how things are made and determine if they are relevant. Digital, education, wealth and health divides will persist so parts of the world will not make such choices actively. But wherever choices can be made, they will be creating an osmotic societal pressure across the planet. A new treaty process must capture the zeitgeist.

Will the immediate validity of the GPs be diminished if we embark on a path toward a legally-binding instrument? No. The time taken until a treaty is negotiated is the ‘GPs-era’. All stakeholders, businesses in particular, should be assured that actioning the GPs now is the most ready one could be for any hard-law. This prospect should catalyse the uptake of the GPs. Actors should be incentivised to apply and test the GPs, feeding findings into the treaty process.

A treaty is a hope that only the UN can provide. The UN should never deny hope.

Download this piece as a report (PDF).


puvan_selvanathan-400*Dr. Selvanathan originally expressed this personal view in September 2014, at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. It is not a position of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. The Kenan Institute will share Dr. Selvanathan’s opinion on the impact and future of the Global Compact, as offered in the same original conversation, in a follow-up piece in January 2015. 

Nov 242014
 November 24, 2014

Appropriate-Appropriation-400Duke Today published a feature on Team Kenan’s Appropriate or Appropriation? event, cosponsored by Duke’s Forum for Scholars and #Artstigators. The event also garnered coverage in the Duke Chronicle, in which Campus Arts Editor Stephanie Wu reflects on how stereotypically “Indian” symbols can be in such widespread (and careless) use in American culture despite being revered parts of the lives of many Native Americans. Panelists included Adrienne Keene, Post-doctoral Fellow at Brown University and author of the blog “Native Appropriations;” Jessica Metcalfe, creator of “Beyond Buckskin” blog & boutique; Susan Scafidi, Professor at Fordham Law and Founder of the Fashion Law Institute (and Duke alumna); and Shayne Watson, designer at Shayne Watson Designs.