By Colleen Shaddox
For generations, the Rakotoarimanana family has farmed in Madagascar. But when a mining operation began in their community, family members lost the right to cultivate much of their own land. They could no longer harvest enough to feed themselves, let alone sell at market.
Jeff Bone came upon that story three years ago. It made him wonder how to best protect locals when multinational mining companies come to town, a concern that inspires his research for an S.J.D. (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor or Doctor of the Science of Law) degree at UConn School of Law.
Bone came to UConn with a varied background. In his native Canada, he has worked for energy companies and represented mining companies as an attorney. That experience showed him that finding a feasible strategy to protect human and environmental rights in the developing world would not be easy.
“Mining companies didn’t really have a choice in how they made their profits,” he said. “They have to do it in a specific place.” In some countries, companies must pay bribes and use disreputable contractors with government connections.
He investigated corporate social responsibility policies as a vehicle to protect locals but found that they had little effect in the field of international mining. Legal action also had a downside. Publicity accompanying suits against irresponsible mining operations has caused multinationals to pull out entirely, Bone said.
His research led him to believe that the best course would be to give an international regulatory agency the power to penalize bad practices through limiting export credits, embassy assistance or other government support to multinationals.
Ultimately, Bone looks to a career in academia. In many countries, the S.J.D. is a requirement to teach in law school. Bone currently teaches business law as an adjunct at the University of Alberta School of Business. He wants to continue a career interacting with “smart, young students who are engaged,” he said.
SJD programs are far more common in Canada than in the United States. But Bone and his wife saw spending time in New England as “an adventure.” UConn’s program emphasized the research process rather than coursework. This appealed to Bone, who wanted to dive into his project.
He spent 2014 on campus and had the opportunity to work with faculty from the school of law and from throughout the university. Professors specializing in political science, economics and human rights all offered insight. Bone said that his advisor, Mark Janis, did “beyond what I would have expected” to offer guidance and support.
Bone plans to break his dissertation down into a series of papers to disseminate his work and will also discuss his ideas with contacts in the Canadian government. He has been spurred on in his research by each new mining disaster that hits the news. While the S.J.D. degree is the most scholarly that a lawyer can pursue, Bone wants to do work that does not gather dust in a library. “This is practical,” he said. “This is happening right now.”