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.

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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.

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