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Corporate-State Relations and the Paralysis of Accountability: A Case-Study of the Khulumani et al. v. Barclays et al. Lawsuit

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The corporation and the state are two of the most powerful contemporary social institutions. In the context of a globalizing world, the relationship between these two institutions is increasingly paradoxical: the state’s territorially bounded authority contrasts with the corporation’s supra-territorial power. One of the most revealing realms in which the relationship between these institutions may be explored is the accountability of transnational corporations. Using a case study of the Khulumani et al. v. Barclays et al. lawsuit, which is currently under consideration in the Southern District Court of New York and was filed under the provisions of the United States' Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), this paper argues that the state has in many respects shifted from protecting citizen interests to protecting corporate interests. By examining the active involvement of the South African and US governments in opposing the Khulumani lawsuit, I argue that methods of corporate accountability are largely paralyzed by the intersecting factors of corporate transnational economic power and mobility, and the lack of a supra-territorial enforcement regime. This paralysis leaves the ATCA as a unique means of negotiating the territorial/supraterritorial nature of transnational corporations and thus as a mechanism to hold them accountable.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-04-01

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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