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Dr Fola Adeleke

Living in: Johannesburg, South Africa
Nationality: Nigerian


Fola Adeleke is head of research in the Mandela Institute at the University of Witwatersrand. he is a South African trained lawyer whose work focuses on international economic law and human rights, corporate transparency, open government and accountability within the extractive industry. Prior to joining the South African Human Rights Commission as the Head of Research, Fola was a Clinical Advocacy Fellow at Harvard Law School supervising clinical projects on business and human rights. Fola was also a Fulbright visiting scholar with the Center for Sustainable Investment at Columbia University. He clerked at the Supreme Court of Appeal, South Africa, and worked at the Open Democracy Advice Centre, where his human rights work spanned across Africa.

He once served as the country researcher for the Open Government Partnership Independent Reporting Mechanism in South Africa and was part of an expert group reviewing the African Union’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. Fola has also produced research for the Carter Center, the Open Society Foundation and the World Bank.

He holds a PhD from Wits University and a LLM degree from the University of Cape Town. He was selected as one of 25 young Africans in the inaugural ‘leading in public life’ fellowship and was part of the 2015 Mo Ibrahim residential school on governance for development in Africa.

His book, International Investment Law and Policy in Africa: Exploring a Human Rights Based Approach to Investment Regulation and Dispute Settlement, was published by Routledge in October 2017. It explores a human rights based approach to investment regulation in Africa.

Personal statement

In the 18th Century, Adam Smith, a classical economist, expressed doubt about the relationship between business and society, specifically, questions about whether and how business serves the needs of society. Smith proposed that there should be a careful consideration of laws as a means to preserve the interests of the public and ensure that the interests of corporations do not prevail at the expense of society. Three centuries later, Thomas Piketty, another economist, reminds us that the question of how income from production should be divided between labour and capital remains at the heart of distributional conflict. Multi-national corporations are often seen as contributors to global inequality. Their flexibility and ability to exit markets with their capital, the creation of global value chains that weaken the economic impact of corporations within states and the manipulation of state regulation to their advantage, among several other concerns, have led to intense public scrutiny and demand for corporate accountability. This brings to the fore the role of state and non-state actors in working together for the advancement of people and the promotion of sustainable development. This debate over the relationship between business and society and the role of regulation in preserving the public interest still continues in various developing countries where there are high levels of social inequality.

In understanding the role of corporations in addressing inequality, the duty of corporations can no longer be a duty to avoid harm but should extend to a positive obligation to protect people, communities and the environment. Consequently, global issues such as tax evasion and profit shifting, which have detrimental effect on state economies and are contributors to global inequality, need to receive our attention as important ways of addressing inequality.

I am broadly interested in the duty of corporations to protect human rights and how to hold global corporations accountable in the absence of a global treaty on business and human rights. I applied for the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equitye because I believe it will expose me to leaders and thinkers that I can learn from and develop strategic partnerships with in creating innovative solutions to address inequality. I hope my unique experience in human rights and regulation from different perspectives will enrich the experience of other Atlantic Fellows.