The Responsibility of Multinational Corporations to Promote Human Rights and the Environment

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Do multinational corporations have a responsibility under international law to promote human rights and the environment in the countries where they do their business? Introduction ‘Multinational corporations’ (MNCs)’ which can be defined as the companies run the business and set up the factories away from the place they are located.[1] MNCs have a considerable influence on global economy with the spread of technology and development of deep globalization. They enlarge the scope of their business to strengthen domestic structure and develop overseas subsidiaries.[2] Although MNCs can bring greater benefits to societies, it may infringe human rights and destroy the environment in the countries where their subsidiaries and plants sited. MNCs might argue that they only have responsibility to their business for earnings, and the business will advantage local communities by investment and job opportunities. Thus, they will consider the benefit firstly rather than human rights or environment. Nevertheless, with the concepts of human rights and environmental protection changes, MNCs should be regulated to entail the duties of human rights and environment.[3] The subjects of international law Even though there are various international conventions and treaties about protection of human rights and environment, however, MNCs seem not to be bound by these international regulations directly since they do not have international legal personality. The arguments of whether or not MNCs can become the subjects of international law that they can acquire international rights and owe corresponding duties, also have ability to bring international claims. Traditional theory of international law is restricted to sovereign states, but it is noteworthy that the range of subjects of international law have gradual broadened since the importance of international organisations and human rights increase significantly. Though MNCs play a role in international relations, they have not been given international legal personality yet by considering the advantages and disadvantages.[4] Instead of focusing on the argument of MNCs legal personality, many scholars suggest paying attention to the international rights and obligations which MNCs shall possess and obey. As the question of whether MNCs have the rights and duties under international law, in actual fact, MNCs now have particular rights under several international law such as international investment law and human rights law, MNCs can bring international claims and get compensation, they also have freedom of speech and receive free trial. MNCs should be obligated to undertake international responsibilities while they enjoy these rights.[5] The development of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Despite MNCs have not been recognised as a traditional subject of international law, however, considering the influences of MNCs on social and environment, the existing international law cannot respond and provide appropriate regulations to MNCs promptly, international law should have been adjusted to harmonise with the changes. The ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) are developed with the intention of responding the gaps between the regulations.[6] The definition of CSR could be that the companies should be in charge of the influences on societies which exerted by themselves. The value of CSR has been noticed internationally, it links the relationship between society, environment, human rights and business operations together.[7] Since the scope of MNCs operation are cross-border which cover various countries and they are mostly in a beneficial position, they should take a wide range of responsibility.[8] MNCs and The human rights Human rights has become one of international issue since 1945 which has been emphasised in UN charter about the faith of human rights[9], these rights are inherent and inalienable which provided to all human beings without any discrimination, they are connected and cannot be divided. The protection of general human rights are mostly stipulated and regulated by law no matter how the formation of treaties or other forms.[10] Traditional notions of that government should be under obligation to human rights protection, but it is undeniable that the importance of MNCs has grown substantially. Therefore, there are numerous arguments occurred that whether the MNCs should be liable for protecting human rights. For the purpose of responding to the great impact of MNCs, the range of human rights that MNCs are responsible for the protection has been discussed and established continuously. The protection of human rights for MNCs which they can bring the international proceedings against other nations or firms in an international stage, companies can be on behalf of themselves to attend the judges and have the rights to express their opinion freely,[11]referring to European Convention on Human Rights Article 34 which indicates that not only individuals, but non-governmental organisations and groups can be entitled to claim that their rights are infringed before European Court of Human Rights.[12] According to the evolution of human rights, there are two forms of human rights which are individual rights and collective rights,[13] these two types of human rights should be held in respective esteem by MNCs.
  1. Individual human rights
Individual rights are the acknowledged fact and assured fundamentals those are given to all person separately.[14] It not merely encompasses civil and political rights but includes economic, social and cultural rights by virtue of International Covenant on Civil[15] and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[16], these rights are inherent and inalienable. Additionally, referring to The Universal Declaration of Human rights, these rights should be respected by all people and nations and every part of society.[17]
  1. Collective human rights
Collective rights are formed by a group or community no matter whether they are majority or minority groups, even a country. The individuals cannot enjoy the collective rights separately, it should be shared with other people.[18] MNCs and environment More attention has been paid to the global environment issues to the public, the destruction of ecology and environment caused by humankind is undoubted. Especially under the development of free trade, the conflict between trade and environment has arose massively. The root causes of environment degradation are not only international trade but structure change, the transfer of pollution from developed countries to developing countries by investing and shifting the manufacturing industries.[19] For the reason that MNCs control and deal with the majority of global economic activities as production, management and distribution of the business. They should be held accountable for the continuous degradation and engaged in promoting protection of environment.[20] It is necessary to regulate the behaviour of MNCs by law in order to solve these environmental problems. Conclusion Although MNCs are not strongly regulated and bound by International law, however, with the expansion of environmental concept and human rights, it could be expected that MNCs should have more responsibility for human rights protection and environmental maintenance in order to reach sustainable development for human, companies and whole society. 1
[1] Jan Wouters and Anna-Luise Chané, ‘Multinational Corporations in International Law’ (2013) Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies Working Paper 129 <www.globalgovernancestudies.eu> accessed 5 November 2014 [2] Gábor Hunya, 'The Role of Multinational Companies in International Business Integration' (2012) The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies Research Report 384< http://wiiw.ac.at/wiiw-research-reports-ps-2.html > accessed 31 October 2014 [3] Panda Barcelona, 'Multinational Corporations And Human Rights Violations: Call For Rebuilding The Laws Of Twenty-First Century' (2013) 20 Journal of Financial Crime 422 [4] Jan Wouters and Anna-Luise Chané (n 1) [5] Pentikainen Merja, ‘Changing international “Subjectivity” and rights and obligations under international law – status of corporations’ (2012) 8 Utrecht Law Review 145 [6] Jennifer A. Zerk, Multinationals and Corporate Social Responsibility: Limitations and Opportunities in International Law (Cambridge University Press 2006). [7] European Commission, 'Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)' <http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/sustainable-business/corporate-social-responsibility/index_en.htm> accessed 10 November 2014. [8] Ivar Kolstad, 'Corporate Social Responsibility of Multinational Corporations' (2007) 6 CMIBRIEF. [9] United Nations, 'Charter of the United Nations' (1945) <http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/preamble.shtml> accessed 1 November 2014 [10] United Nations Human rights, 'What Are Human Rights' (1996) <http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx> accessed 30 October 2014. [11] Jan Wouters and Anna-Luise Chané (n 1) [12] European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Rome, 4 November 1950, in force 3 September 1953. [13] Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (1st edn, Oxford University Press 1995) <http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/> accessed 6 November 2014 [14] Franciszek Przetacznik, 'Individual Human Rights In John Locke's Two Treatises of Government' (1978) 25 Netherlands International Law Review 195 [15] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UNGA 2200A (XXI), December 1966, in force 23 March 1976 [16] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UNGA 2200A (XXI), December 1966, into force 3 January 1976 [17] The Universal Declaration of Human rights, UNGA 217A (III) 10 December 1948 [18] Franciszek Przetacznik (n14) [19] Håkan Nordström and Scott Vaughan, 'Trade and Environment' (WTO Publications 1999). [20] Nazli Choucri, 'The Global Environment & Multinational Corporations' (1991) 94(3) Technology Review 52
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