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Transnational corporations and international law: bringing TNCs out of the accountability vacuum

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Purpose ‐ This paper aims to highlight the disparity between the huge global influence and reach of transnational corporations, on the one hand, and the lack of international legal infrastructure for regulating TNC activity, on the other. Existing avenues for holding TNCs accountable for breaches of international standards are woefully inadequate. After rejecting the idea of subjecting TNCs to potential criminal liability, the paper then proposes a set of principles for international TNC responsibility modelled on the 2001 Draft Articles on State Responsibility. The potential future role of regional human rights courts and the International Labour Organisation in holding TNCs accountable is also explored. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A survey of existing legal texts and secondary scholarship was undertaken to determine the existing coverage of the regulatory infrastructure for holding TNCs to account, and to identify gaps in that coverage. Findings ‐ Significant governance gaps in the existing institutional infrastructure were identified, creating a permissive environment within which blameworthy acts by TNCs may occur without adequate sanctioning or reparation. Potential regulatory and institutional avenues for filling these gaps were identified. Research limitations/implications ‐ The author lacks hands-on experience of the political barriers which may exist and may make the proposed reforms unrealistic. Those in the field are encouraged to consider whether the proposed reforms are feasible/desirable. Practical implications ‐ The paper contains implications for the future of international law, the regional human rights courts and the International Labour Organisation. Originality/value ‐ The paper contains original proposals for the future evolution of international law in its application to TNCs.

Keywords: International law; Transnational companies

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2011

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