Postgraduate research opportunities Data-intensive Technologies in Corporate Human Rights Due Diligence: Current Regulatory Challenges and Future Prospects


Key facts

  • Opens: Friday 12 May 2023
  • Deadline: Friday 9 June 2023
  • Number of places: 1
  • Duration: 3.5 years
  • Funding: Home fee, Stipend


This PhD project will explore how law can be used to address the legal, regulatory, and practical challenges that stem from the expanding use of data-intensive technologies in corporate decision-making processes. More specifically, the project will look at the role that law can play in promoting the socially responsible use of data in the context of processes carried out in fulfilment of corporate responsibilities and obligations relating to human rights due diligence.
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Candidates must have a background in law, or closely related discipline (e.g., public policy). Applications from outstanding candidates who do not have a background in these areas but do have a background in social sciences, and demonstrable knowledge of data-intensive technologies, will also be considered.

Specialism in human rights law is desirable but not essential; training in human rights law will be provided.

Specialism in law pertaining to digital technologies (e.g., data protection, AI Act etc.) is desirable but not essential; training in this area will also be provided.

This opportunity is open to candidates with a UK Honours degree (at 2.1 or above, or equivalent for non-UK qualifications), and a Master’ degree (awarded or expected award) in a relevant subject area. 

For international qualifications, the University accepts equivalent entry requirements.

An IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5 minimum is required (with a minimum 6.0 in each component, or equivalent) for candidates for whom English is not a first language and this must be evidenced at point of application. The University of Strathclyde accepts a variety of equivalent qualifications.

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Project Details

In the past few years, data-intensive technologies have come to play a critical role in corporate strategy and decision-making processes, such as customer insight and marketing, recruitment, risk management and predictive analytics. Datafication has several benefits for corporate due diligence, such as improving decision accuracy, enhancing supply chain oversight and management, and enabling the prediction of future impacts and the formulation of appropriate responses.

Data-intensive technologies may also play a role in supporting processes carried out in fulfilment of corporate responsibilities and obligations relating to human rights due diligence. Key among these is human rights impact assessment (HRIA), understood as a process for identifying, comprehending, evaluating, and addressing the adverse effects of business activities on rights-holders (e.g., workers, local communities, consumers).

At the same time, datafication can generate substantial challenges in this context, which largely remain underexplored. For example, this includes distinguishing appropriate data for use in identifying and assessing the potential adverse effects of business activities on rights-holders (e.g., interference with privacy and/or the failure to protect rights-holders from discrimination), methods of data collection and processing, and the need for formalised standards pertaining to the evaluation of this data. It also includes challenges related to the human rights impacts of data-driven technologies themselves: who might be impacted, which rights may be adversely affected, and how can such impacts be identified and assessed?

In grappling with these challenges, consideration must be given to the role, both actual and potential, of law in promoting the socially responsible use of data and data-intensive technologies by corporations. Among other things, it is necessary to examine how human rights law can be used (also in combination with other areas of law, such as data protection law and AI law) to steer corporate behavior. The EU offers an interesting case study in this regard. In addition to its General Data Protection Regulation, the EU is currently in the process of developing a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, which aims to anchor human rights and environmental considerations in companies’ operations and corporate governance, and an AI Act, which aims to achieve a balance between empowering corporations to deliver upon the potential socio-economic benefits of AI and ensuring the protection of EU citizens’ fundamental rights.  

Beyond the context of the EU, human rights law enters the picture in the form of international standards of corporate conduct (e.g., the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) and bottom-up initiatives aimed at encouraging their uptake and facilitating their implementation (e.g., the Danish Human Rights Institute’s HRIA Guidance and Toolbox). Moving forward, it can be argued that a more decisive and concerted legal response would allow corporations to harness the advantages of modern data-driven techniques at the same time as it would provide explicit and defined safeguards geared towards compliance with human rights law.

Against this background, this PhD project should explore how law can be used to address the legal, regulatory, and practical challenges that stem from the expanding use of data-intensive technologies in corporate decision-making processes, with an emphasis on processes carried out in fulfilment of corporate responsibilities and obligations relating to human rights due diligence. In developing your research proposal, you may want to consider questions such as:

  • Which human rights are likely to be impacted by corporate activities supported by data-intensive technologies? How are human rights impacted (positively and/or negatively) by data-intensive technologies used in corporate decision making? How can impacts be identified, measured, and assessed? Who are the 'rights holders' to be protected?
  • What kinds of data might be used to assess the relevant impacts as part of corporate due diligence? Who are the likely subjects and holders of this data? What are the likely modes of data collection and processing?
  • How are data-intensive technologies used in HRIA? How are data-intensive technologies used in other forms of legally mandated impact assessments beyond HRIA (e.g., environmental impact assessment, data protection impact assessment, equalities impact assessment)? What lessons can be learned from relevant laws and practice? What opportunities and challenges are presented by integrated approaches to impact assessment?
  • Does EU law provide an effective framework for ensuring the responsible use of data-intensive technologies in corporate decision-making? What about jurisdictions beyond the EU?
  • What is the capacity of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and related tools to support socially responsible use of data-driven technologies in corporate decision making? To what extent do, and can, these standards and tools align with other legal frameworks which regulate the use of data-driven technologies?

Further information

Strathclyde Centre for Doctoral Training in Human Rights-based Decision Making

This project is hosted within the newly launched Strathclyde Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Human Rights-based Decision Making. The PhD projects affiliated with this CDT should enhance understanding of the complex challenges and opportunities related to human rights-based decision making by a range of actors/institutions in the public, private, and third sector. The CDT’s aim is to bring together a cohort of postgraduate researchers to build interdisciplinary skills and knowledge needed to help tackle the major challenges of translating international legal protections into more just institutions, processes, and equitable outcomes for people in their everyday lives. 

The interaction between human rights-based decision making and data-intensive technologies is the theme for the phase of projects beginning in 2023.

The CDT supervisory team includes academics in Law, Humanities, Computer and Information Sciences, Government and Public Policy, and Economics. The multidisciplinary supervisory team will continue in line with future projects. As a CDT postgraduate researcher, you will be trained by, and collaborate with, the supervisory team to grow a critical knowledge base around understanding how human rights standards can become integrated in strategic and operational decision making.

Research culture, supervision and training

At Strathclyde, Centres for Doctoral Training aim to provide you with an innovative, engaging, and supportive student experience that promotes world class research in an interdisciplinary environment. You will benefit from a range of excellent training and opportunities and be part of our vibrant research culture.

The Primary and Secondary Supervisor for this project are based in the Law School. Strathclyde Law School has, in its 60 year history, established and consolidated its reputation for research excellence. Research in the School is closely aligned with the University mission to be ‘a place of useful learning’. Human rights is one of the Law School’s areas of research strengths. The Law School is a vibrant and inclusive research environment, and postgraduate research students (PGRs) are an integral part of our research community. You will also be part of the Graduate School in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. This provides students with a well-equipped physical space, and further facilitates our strong emphasis on interdisciplinary working. We are members of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities and the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science. All registered PGRs are members of one or both Schools, which provide training, event and funding opportunities for all PhD students.

A key focus of the CDT will be training, to support your development as a highly skilled researcher able to work at the interface of different disciplines and methods. CDT-specific training will sit alongside research skills training offered within your home faculty, and you’ll also enrol in the University’s Postgraduate Certificate in Researcher Professional Development (PG Cert RPD). This programme offers a tailored suite of workshops, courses, events, online provisions and resources designed to meet your development needs. This is a unique qualification, where students can gain credits for academic-related activities, such as conference presentations, event organisation, and public engagement. This programme is aimed at developing skilled, confident researchers and effective and valuable potential employees. You will graduate with the University’s Postgraduate Certificate in Researcher Professional Development.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The University of Strathclyde is a socially progressive institution that strives to ensure equality of opportunity and celebrates the diversity of its student and staff community. Strathclyde is people-oriented and collaborative, offering a supportive and flexible working culture with a deep commitment to our equality, diversity and inclusion charters, initiatives, groups and networks.

We strongly encourage applications from Black, Asian and minority ethnicity, women, LGBT+, and disabled candidates and candidates from lower socio-economic groups and care-experienced backgrounds.

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Funding details

Funded candidates will receive a maintenance grant in line with UK Research and Innovation guidance to cover living expenses, with an annual cost of living increase. Home fees are included in the studentship.

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Dr Harkens

Dr Adam Harkens


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Dr Ntona

Dr Mara Ntona


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Interested candidates should forward a CV (3 pages max. and to include undergraduate and postgraduate degree grade point averages) and project proposal (1500-2000 words) to the Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law: You will receive an email confirmation of receipt within 3 working days. If you do not receive this, please email the named contacts below.

This proposal should indicate: 

  • Motivations for researching in this subject area,
  • Your understanding of the research context, to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject area
  • A suggested research question or questions, and how these fit in relation to the suggested questions above
  • Potential research methods (including a possible case study if you believe it to be necessary and relevant).

Please indicate in your email if you are available on both interview dates and whether you agree to an interview via Zoom, or whether you are requesting an in-person interview.

If your application is not shortlisted, we aim to let you know within 2 weeks.

Number of places: 1

Shortlisting will be carried out by three members of the supervisory team at the Strathclyde Centre for Doctoral Training in Human Rights-based Decision Making. 

It is anticipated that shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview on 14th or 20th June 2023.

All staff involved in shortlisting and interviewing will have undertaken recent unconscious bias training.

Interviews will take place via Zoom. Applicants can request an in-person interview if preferred and this will be accommodated if possible depending on availability of the interview panel.

To read how we process personal data, applicants can review our 'Privacy Notice for Student Applicants and Potential Applicants' on our Privacy notices' web page.

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Contact us

For further details, contact Dr. Adam Harkens, and/or Dr. Mara Ntona,