Private Political Authority and Public Responsibility: Transnational Politics, Transnational Firms, and Human Rights

Business Ethics Quarterly 19 (3):349-374 (2009)
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Transnational corporations have become actors with significant political power and authority which should entail responsibility and liability, specifically direct liability for complicity in human rights violations. Holding TNCs liable for human rights violations is complicated by the discontinuity between the fragmented legal/political structure of the TNC and its integrated strategic reality and the international state system which privileges sovereignty and non-intervention over the protection of individual rights. However, the post-Westphalian transition—the emergence of multiple authorities, increasing ambiguity of borders and jurisdiction and blurring of the line between the public and private spheres—should facilitate imposing direct responsibility on transnational firms. Mechanisms for imposing direct responsibility on TNCs are considered including voluntary agreements and international law. However, I conclude that a hybrid public-private regime which relies onnon-hierarchical compliance mechanisms is likely to be both more effective and consistent with the structure of the emerging transnational order.



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