A year ago, Brianna Nofil was taking midterms in her last fall semester as a Public Policy and History major at Duke. This October, she found herself in the growing democracy of Mongolia, listening to native nomadic herders discuss encroachments by new foreign-funded mineral mines as part of a United Nations Working Group.
Nofil is the Stephen and Janet Bear Post-Graduate Fellow at the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, a one-year position that allows recent Duke graduates to work closely with the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Business. Established in June 2011, the Working Group supports efforts to prevent and address adverse impacts on human rights arising from global business activities.
The Working Group consists of professional experts in business and human rights who are appointed by the UN. The relationship between the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Working Group is unique, and Nofil’s participation affords unprecedented opportunities.
This ten-day trip was the first of the Working Group’s country missions—traveling assignments meant to engage stakeholders, examine business and human rights in a national context, and create recommendations for governments. In 2011, Mongolia saw $5.3 billion in foreign direct investment, and the national GDP could as much as quadruple in the next five years. The economic gains made from mining large deposits of precious minerals must be balanced with maintaining land rights of nomadic herders.
During her time in Mongolia, Nofil met with representatives from the miners, nomadic herders, government officials, business leaders, and Non-governmental organizations. Along with the Working Group, she also attended a conference titled “Human Rights and Mining in Mongolia,” sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia.
Nofil notes that it will be “interesting to see how business interests and human rights concerns are reconciled as Mongolia launches into one of the most significant new mining operations globally. Multinational companies moving into this emerging economy have the opportunity to utilize best practices and set a precedent of cooperation on human rights issues.”