Christine Bader '00, Advisor to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights
Christine Bader sees many ways to have a positive impact on the world. As an advisor to the special representative of the UN Secretary General for business and human rights, Bader is currently helping to shape policies that could affect the lives of people all around the world. But in thinking of how she got to this point, Bader remembers a time when she worked with a much smaller population. "My first job out of college was with City Year, and I spent most of the year working as a teacher’s aide in a public elementary school. That was terrific. I really felt like I was making a difference to the 30 kids that I was working with. I remember trying to figure out if teaching was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had a conversation that really struck me with a city councilwoman who said, 'I love teaching, too, but I realized I wanted to affect thousands of kids a year, not just 30.'"
After working in both the government and nonprofit sectors, Bader came to Yale SOM in 1998 to learn more about the one sector that wasn’t yet on her resumé — the private sector. She did an internship in strategy and policy development at BP, and then accepted a full time position with the company. "I never would have guessed that I’d end up at an energy company, but SOM broadened my thinking about where I could learn how the world works and have a meaningful impact."
In her first year at the company, Bader went to Indonesia, where BP was busy evaluating a number of assets it had recently acquired. She worked on the construction of a new liquefied natural gas plant that was set amidst a delicate ecosystem and a vulnerable population. Without clear guidelines, Bader and the team from BP had to decide how to take account of broad human rights concerns — whether that meant maintaining good community relations or minimizing impact on the environment. In one case, the company altered the design of a jetty so as not to block local residents’ access to an important sacred site. "There are disastrous examples of other projects in the country where community needs hadn’t been met, and there’d been serious damage, ranging from boycotts to violent incidents… I’m proud of the things we did on that project."
After a year in Shanghai, Bader moved to BP headquarters in London, where she eventually rejoined the strategy and policy development group. She was asked to focus on company-wide human rights issues, and produced the company’s human rights guidance note. "When I started business school, I didn’t realize that I’d be able to work on social change within a corporate environment in such an obvious way," she says.
Bader adds that she turned out to be well suited to work in the private sector. "It takes a certain sort of pragmatism. You have to get on with the business of the company and figure out how to do it in a way that fits with your ideals. Some campaigning human rights organizations see their role as to hold the hard line. I think that’s important, too. You need extreme views to move the center. But everybody has to figure out where he or she is most effective in the world."
Bader took on a new role — and gained a new perspective on the human rights issues she’d been wrestling with — when she started working with John Ruggie, the UN Secretary General’s special representative on business and human rights and a Harvard Kennedy School professor. Ruggie’s mandate was to clarify the responsibilities of companies in this area. He consulted widely and commissioned new research. In 2008, he proposed a framework for business and human rights built on three foundational principles: "the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for more effective access to remedies for victims of corporate-related abuse." (Read an interview with Christine Bader to learn more about this work.)
At first Bader worked for the UN on loan from BP, but when Ruggie’s mandate was extended in 2008 to further develop the framework, Bader left the company to focus on this initiative. "This work is really at the heart of what I want to do, and it’s such a great opportunity to learn about a broad range of industries," says Bader. "I do sometimes miss the feeling of day-to-day impact, but for now it’s really fascinating to work at this 50,000-foot level."