Human rights field experience can take Webster students to remote corners of the world, for example, the hill country of northern Thailand.
In one instance, however, it took them across town to a major corporation.
Justin Raymundo and Zach Treadway spent part of their summer working on human rights field experience projects at Monsanto’s world headquarters in St. Louis. They say their work at Monsanto has opened their eyes to the good that corporations can do for the world and to the possibilities that exist for collaboration between human rights advocates and the corporate sector.
The seed for the groundbreaking partnership was planted during a spring 2010 Human Rights and Business class, in which Monsanto deputy general counsel Brian Lowry was a guest lecturer. Raymundo bought Lowry a soft drink during the class and told him he could pay him back by offering an internship at his company. Lowry responded with a polite “We’ll try to make that happen.”
‘A Happenstance Sort of Thing’
When the details were worked out, Monsanto was offering Webster human rights majors two field experiences totaling about 120 hours for summer 2010. Raymundo and Treadway were chosen from a group of interested students.
Raymundo called the new Monsanto/Webster collaboration “a happenstance sort of thing” and credits Arts & Sciences Associate Dean Sarita Cargas, also an adjunct professor in Webster’s International Human Rights program, for doing the necessary legwork to make it a reality.
Cargas said she was pleased that large companies are beginning to take part in human rights work. “We tend to think of students’ field experience as working with non-profit NGOs (non-governmental organizations) focused solely on human rights,” Cargas said. “But giant multinationals are increasingly joining human rights efforts.”
A speech communications and international human rights major, Raymundo is also working on an M.A. in International Relations combined degree. He said his duties at Monsanto were to work on human rights guidelines and communicate policy to external stakeholders, which he defined as a company’s “customers, suppliers, lenders, and the wider society.”
Raymundo’s Monsanto duties were guided by the UN Global Compact, a voluntary initiative that attempts to align business with 10 universal principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. He said his experience on “the other side of the fence” has opened his eyes to corporations’ potential as human rights advocates. “It changed my mind about where a lot of human right effort should be placed,” he said.
An Overlooked Part of Human Rights Work
Treadway is a human rights major with a Spanish minor. Like Raymundo, he also is pursuing an M.A. in International Relations combined degree. His Monsanto field experience focused on developing and deploying an internal red-flag assessment, which examines Monsanto’s compliance with its human rights policy and highlights situations at Monsanto locations that might be of concern.
To that end, he worked with a translation service to translate Monsanto’s human rights policy into 17 languages, including Vietnamese, Arabic, Hindi, and Thai. He said the human rights document addresses matters such as working hours, violence, child labor, and safety.
Treadway said he appreciated his “real-life experience” at Monsanto and understands now that corporations can be a catalyst for human rights change. “It’s pretty exciting to see what’s going on at this early stage,” he said.
“This is definitely a part of human rights work that gets overlooked,” Treadway added.
‘A World-Class Human Rights Program’
Maureen Mazurek, Monsanto human rights stakeholder engagement lead, supervised Raymundo during his field experience. She said Monsanto was excited to partner with Webster, a human rights leader, to help promote human rights.
“A world-class human rights program in our greater St. Louis community provides incredible opportunities,” Mazurek said, “not only for students to enrich their studies through practical learning, but also for Monsanto, because we are provided with new ideas and critical thinking to advance our efforts in human rights.”
She said her own undergraduate learning was enhanced by an internship and that she is “thrilled to be giving these types of opportunities to today’s students.”
Cargas said the Monsanto experience seems to have affected Treadway and Raymundo’s opinions about corporations. “The students realized corporations can have a greater impact on human rights than most other institutions,” she said. “Fifty of the largest 100 economies are now multinationals, not nation states. Thus, our students are right to recognize that it is essential to have people who are trained in human rights working at large corporations.”
The Monsanto field experience has been so positive that Treadway and Raymundo were asked to continue their field experience at the corporation’s headquarters through the fall semester. Besides helping the Webster students realize that corporations can do much good in the human rights arena, their corporate work has broadened their thinking about career opportunities.
“My dreams are to do this for a long time,” Raymundo said.