By Sydney Piggott
Jacquelyn Platis is the Founder and Chair of the Conference on Law and the Ethical Responsibility of Business (CLERB). The CLERB is an international virtual event that was created in 2018 to bring corporations, academics, and lawyers into conversation with the next generation to discuss the future of business and its ethical responsibility.
Tell us a bit about the Conference on Law and Ethical Responsibility. What motivated you to start it?
The CLERB facilitates conversations about the increasing role for business in bringing about solutions in world-wide challenges, such as inequality, climate change, and poverty. Along with me, the team is made up of four student volunteers in the United Kingdom and Europe: Nadia Cheng, Estée Poichot, Maryam Khan, and Alex Zahlan. Past speakers at the conference included representatives from Linklaters, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, UpCircle, and more.
My academic background is in International Development Studies from Queen’s University, which was one of the catalysts that inspired me to create the CLERB. Since high school, I’d travelled to developing countries, experienced the power of grassroots initiatives, and seen the negative impact of corporate greed and disregard in local communities. Specifically, I saw a Canadian mining company that was polluting a village’s main water source just outside of Cusco, Peru. Learning about this community’s experience and the fruitless legal battle between them and the corporation really upset me.
I took a business and development class that illuminated a lot of the gaps that exist within corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social, governance (ESG) implementation. After graduating, I started working at a corporate law firm on Bay Street in Toronto and learned very quickly how rigid companies can be when it comes to evolving towards true ESG and not just checking the box to gain recognition as “best employer” awards. I decided that the next step for me would be to understand the role that the law plays in the dynamic between businesses and their ethical responsibility. This is where the CLERB was born.
I did research to find a forum that created an interdisciplinary space to bring students, young professionals into conversation with lawyers, engineers, business people, communities, or pretty much anyone who is curious to use the power of business for good. Nothing existed, so I started brainstorming and connected with an old friend to create all of our branding material. I wanted to create an accessible space where we could network with those who share this same passion. From there, I moved to the UK to study law to further understand what can be done to help businesses in this way. That’s where I recruited and hired the CLERB executive team, who have mostly been with me since the beginning of 2019.
Can you share more on your upcoming events and the theme of Communities in Conversation with Corporations?
I think this year’s theme reflects a big gap we’re seeing as businesses try to shift towards being more ethical, being more aware, and caring about more than just profit. There’s a lot of data out there that confirms individuals running CSR initiatives and socially responsible investment funds are commerce graduates with a background in finance or accounting. Looking at these dynamics through a development lens, you have to ask, how is research being conducted for these programs and funds? Are these initiatives being designed with community voices as a part of the conversation or are they directed towards creating better optics for the company?
The next question that follows is the “how?” and that’s what our events this year are about. One event is focused on the corporation side and the other focused on the community perspective. The goal is to give our delegates a well rounded idea of what’s going on in these two separate spaces and to challenge them to learn by contributing to the effort to bridge the gap as they enter the workforce or start their own initiatives.
The first CLERB event of 2021, Corporations, is taking place on April 17 and will feature voices from leaders in the sustainability space. We will be hearing from two keynote speakers: the Head of Sustainability at UNIQLO and the CEO of 1% For The Planet. Our event wraps up with a speaker panel that will feature voices from leaders in ESG, CSR, law, and sustainable development. Our event is unique because you get to be a part of a conversation that wouldn’t happen elsewhere. Our panel is known for challenging speakers to step outside of their comfort zones and learn about what others are doing in relation to their work.
What can delegates expect from attending the CLERB events?
In addition to the incredible conversations presented during our conferences, the CLERB is known for great networking opportunities. I got a job at the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment from one of the connections I made during last year’s virtual event. In an age where everything is virtual, this event is a great way to build your network and connect with people around the world who you might not have met otherwise.
Delegates also can expect three interesting and compelling speaker events where they will be encouraged to ask hard questions. Our team doesn’t hold back when it comes to posing tough questions and we encourage all participants to do the same. We partner with societies from universities and brands from around the world. Representatives from each of these organizations will be popping into the conference and will be available to connect with our delegates after the event. Lastly, we offer exclusive discount codes to all of our delegates on great products and there’s an opportunity to receive free goods for our North American delegates.
What has been the best part about starting the conference?
The best part about starting this conference, other than meeting and working with such incredible speakers, sponsors and delegates, has been working with the CLERB executive team. The CLERB team members are all so passionate and smart. It’s been a joy to see them grow over the past year and a half. I’m so proud of everything we’ve overcome together. From adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic to increased responsibilities and growth, they are such a special and strong group of people and I am honored to be able to share this journey with them.
What advice do you have for other young people looking to get involved in this space?
To anyone who wants to learn more about the CSR, ESG, sustainability and business space, I highly recommend reaching out to leaders through LinkedIn and attending as many (virtual for now) events that you can. Because this career path is new, there isn’t a prescribed journey to find your way to your dream job and there are so many niche pockets that you only learn about by networking and exploring.
For anyone who is looking to start a brand and plan events like the CLERB, my advice is to do your research and be well versed in the various arms of what it takes to run a successful conference. I can definitely say that running your own brand and event comes with a lot of challenges, but it is worth it. I always make the time to have calls with those who reach out, so if this speaks to you, connect with me and I’ll make the time to talk and answer questions!
To learn more about the CLERB, check out their website and register for their event, Communities in Conversation with Corporations, on April 17 (spots are limited). Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn for info on future events and networking opportunities!