Some people grow up knowing they’re going to work for the family business. Sarah Labowitz was no different.
“In some ways, social justice is part of the family business,” said Labowitz, founder of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the first human rights center based at a business school. “My parents and grandparents helped set me up for a career in human rights and international affairs.” Both of her grandfathers served as diplomats; her father was an AIDs lawyer in the 1980s, and her mother volunteered with immigrants in their local community of Alexandria, Va.
Beginning her journey after college, Labowitz landed a job at the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting workers’ rights around the world. The job increased her curiosity in researching human rights. “It met my broad interest in international and social justice issues. … I have worked with some of the people that I met there basically since then.”
One of those people, Michael Posner, worked with Labowitz to found the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights in 2013. Posner and Labowitz decided to create the center after recognizing the need for global companies to address human rights challenges. “With business expanding into places where the government doesn’t fulfill its duty to its own people to protect their rights, there was an obvious need for more research and better advocacy,” Labowitz said.
Labowitz has done extensive research for the center, including the investigation of labor practices in the garment factories in Bangladesh. Between 2013 and 2016, she travelled there six times. “It is a hard place to do research,” she said, describing harsh factory conditions she witnessed. “But I think the way that we approached it was respectful, while presenting new information and some hard truths about how clothes are made.”
Advocating against human rights violations does take a toll, she said. “For anyone that does high intensity international work, having a sense of grounded-ness in a faith community is really helpful in sustaining this kind of work over the long term.”
Best in the field: When not scoring major wins for human rights, you can find Labowitz scoring goals on the soccer field. She’s proud team member of Mayhem, a Washington, D.C.-based rec-league. She jokes that it is the “best rec-league, co-ed, division-2 soccer team in the world.”