Studying human rights law at Harvard Law School – but no savoury muffins
Amelia Evans has a passion for social justice that she has struggled to reconcile with her interest and talent for entrepreneurship and business. These two pursuits finally come together in 2010 when Amelia left New Zealand to study at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a one-year LLM specialising in how International Human Rights law might apply to businesses.
“I’ve worked in business and the corporate environment but I’ve also been really involved in social justice,” Amelia says. “For example, I’ve done volunteer work with Women’s Refuge for the last four years.”
“This Masters programmes seemed to me the best way to reconcile these issues within a strong legal framework. Human rights law has traditionally only applied to governments and individuals. I am interested at looking at how it might apply to businesses – how businesses can be held accountable. This is a growth area of law and one that New Zealand is being left behind in.”
Amelia says she would like to work to get New Zealand recognised in terms of ethical business practices and plans to work with businesses on a voluntary basis to achieve this.
“For example, the UN is currently setting up the Global Compact which will be a voluntary regulation framework for businesses. In the United States something like 100 of the Fortune 500 companies have signed up already, but in New Zealand only two or three businesses have signed up. We are really unaware of what is going on in this area and risk getting left behind.”
The Global Compact is a voluntary initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.
“So I want to go over to the States and learn about this and come back to New Zealand to share this knowledge,” Amelia says. “I decided on Harvard because that is where John Ruggie lectures.” John Ruggie is the Berthold Beitz Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government; and Affiliated Professor in International Legal Studies at Harvard Law School.
Getting accepted to Harvard was one thing but Amelia also needed to raise a huge amount of money to pay her fees and living expenses. Fortunately she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and the Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship from Harvard.
“The Fulbright Scholarship is really prestigious and well-known, so being awarded one made it easier to attract other scholarships,” she says.
Amelia is making the most of her experience of living in the United States for the first time.
Having learnt how different the different states are from each other, Amelia says: “I really cringe at the generalisations [New Zealanders] make about Americans. Really, every state has its own really unique identity.”
Amelia says it can be hard to get work done with all that is happening on campus with “amazing speakers and events on all the time”.
So Amelia decided to live off campus, saying that otherwise she would never leave the “bubble of Harvard law”.
There are a few things that Amelia misses about New Zealand though.
“Things I miss include muffins. There are no savoury muffins and the sweet ones are just covered in sugar. It’s also really hard to get good coffee. You can get espresso but it’s really hard to find, really expensive and not that good.”
Amelia previously worked as a judge’s clerk for Justice Young and Justice O’Regan, as an assistant Crown Counsel, a Russell McVeagh summer clerk and as a Human Rights intern at the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office in Melbourne. Amelia graduated with an LLB(Hons) and a BCA from Victoria University in 2008.
This article was published in LawTalk 761, 1 November 2010, page 13.