Human Rights, Economic Globalization and Multinational Corporations

Considering Human Rights Responsibilities of MNC's as Non-State Actors

Essay, 2013

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Georg Müller (Author)

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Human Rights, Economic Globalization and Multinational Corporations – Considering Human Rights Responsibilities of MNC`s as Non-State Actors


The introduction of the International Bill of Human Rights and subsequent treaties marked a radical change in the previous belief that only sovereign countries themselves are responsible for enforcing human rights within their borders. However, today we still do not see much change in the international human rights environment. The UN convention on genocide did by no means prevent the next genocides, as for example in Rwanda, from occurring and human rights violations a observable all over the world, be it in the form of child labor in China or sex slavery in the US. In light of a rapidly changing global landscape due to the effects of globalization and leading to increasingly interconnected nations, an additional challenge as well as opportunity is posed to human rights enforcement. This paper argues that MNC’s have a responsibility to enforce, within their boundaries, human rights more stringently and national and international legislation should reflect these responsibilities. Furthermore this paper argues that the state, while remaining the strongest actor in international relations in general, is increasingly losing bargaining power over human rights concerns thus shifting the human rights focus onto non-state actors. Firstly this paper will analyze the changing global landscape as well as business environment in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) concerning human rights. Building on the first analyzes this paper will argue for a shift in human rights enforcement from state to non-state actors, in particular to MNC’s. Thereby this paper will argue that MNC’s responsibilities towards compliance to human rights derives firstly, from an international human rights regime perspective and secondly from a moral perspective. Thirdly this paper will analyze how and if this shift in enforcement is feasible by particularly looking at the influence of the civil society on business behavior, as well as legislative changes to national law and international human rights law. Finally, this paper will conclude that, while MNC’s have a moral responsibility to enforce human rights more stringently, they lack the legal pressure to do so. Therefore new legislative changes need to be introduced to account for the continued emergence of subnational and transnational networks and the increased influence and spread of non-state actors.

Status Quo

Today 52 of the 100 largest economies are corporations and 70% of world trade is controlled by the 500 largest corporations ( This represents a significant change to the situation five decades ago when human rights legislation was firstly introduced on a global scale. While fifty years ago transnational relations between nation states used to be the determining factor in international regulatory policies and discussions, today we are faced with a complex structure consisting of vertical as well as horizontal subnational, transnational and national networks (Slaughter 2004). This means that the traditional way of thinking about the interactions of states is no longer applicable. This also has significant implications for human rights, because although the introduction of international human rights norms represented a shift in how state sovereignty was considered and even allows, for example in the case of genocide, for international intervention, the role of non-state actors was until recently were marginally explored. Even though Cassel, for example, anticipated already in 1995 a second human rights revolution, following the recognition of the Universal Bill on Human Rights, with multinational corporations at the heart of the movement, he also remarked that “its [the revolution’s] normative outcome remains unclear” (1995, 3). The relationship between businesses, in particular MNC`s, and human rights received firstly real global attention in 2005 through the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights and transnational corporation (Ruggie 2013, 8). Overall this late reaction to a constant development of MNC’s is, however, not surprising since international human rights were from the beginning conceived as being claims against states (Francioni 2007, 245). However, even after the emergence of the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the 1970s, 1980s, viewing the firm not only as an entity with economic, but also with legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities (Lee and Carroll 2011), the academic literature did not focus much on the relationship between corporates and human rightsm, as pointed out by Wettstein (2012, 1). The reason for that could potentially lie in the very distinct nature of human rights claims and the goals of a business. While the human rights approach is primarily concerned with principles that remain important regardless of their consequences, businesses take a consequentialist approach that is inherently concerned with outcomes. Furthermore the question of what kind of responsibilities MNC’s could have, if any at all, has been very insufficiently explored (Arnold 2012, 126). However, it is not necessarily obvious that MNC’s, as business entities, have any obligations towards human rights thus maybe not necessitating a shift in human rights law due to the global economic power and expansion of MNC’s.

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Human Rights, Economic Globalization and Multinational Corporations
Considering Human Rights Responsibilities of MNC's as Non-State Actors
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human, rights, economic, globalization, multinational, corporations, considering, responsibilities, non-state, actors
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Georg Müller (Author), 2013, Human Rights, Economic Globalization and Multinational Corporations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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