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Chapter 16: Human Rights, Corporations and the Global Economy: An International Law Perspective
16 Human rights, corporations and the global economy: an international law perspective1 David Kinley and Justine Nolan Introduction The many and various features of the global economy and the centrality of corporations within it, have a direct and enduring impact on the quest to better protect and promote human rights. That impact, of course, cuts both ways. Consider, for instance, such recent events as the United Nation’s appointment of a Special Representative to the Secretary-General on human rights and corporations;2 the World Bank’s proclamation that ‘human rights are the very essence of the Bank’s work’;3 and the entreaties made of the world’s principal trading nations at the last World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Hong Kong of the sclerotic Doha Round (which, at the time of writing, limps on still),4 to leverage global trade for the beneﬁt of securing basic human rights of the poor,5 all of which bear testimony to the two dimensions of this debate – an appreciation of the global economy’s great potential not only to help but also to hamper the objects of human rights. What is striking about this potential is the extent to which it relies upon – indeed, to a signiﬁcant degree, is driven by – private non-state actors, namely corporations. Transnational corporations (TNCs) in particular, are the engines of the global economy; they have become the ‘Behemoths’ as Noreena Hertz calls them, whose power has been ‘propelled by government policies of privatisation, deregulation and trade liberalisation, and the...
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