Holding corporations accountable for human rights violations: international regulation, voluntarism or co-regulation?

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Lagally, Erika
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The starting point of this paper is the fact that the number and power of transnational corporations (TNCs) has grown considerably over the last decades. Under international human rights law, the host states of TNCs have the obligation to ensure that corporations under their jurisdiction do not violate human rights. However, many TNCs are operating in host states which are not able or not willing to fulfil this obligation. Thus, there is an “accountability gap” in international law – TNCs have the opportunity to increase their profits by violating human rights without having to fear legal prosecution. This paper examines how transnational corporations can be held accountable when they violate human rights. It is argued that the current avenues dealing with the issue of corporations and human rights – (1) regulation via the host states of TNCs, (2) regulation via the home states of TNCs as well as (3) voluntary initiatives by corporations usually referred to under the term “corporate social responsibility” – contribute to the accountability of corporations, but are not a sufficient answer to corporate human rights violations. Two main options are discussed that should be explored to close the accountability gap: (1) international enforcement of corporate human rights obligations and (2) the concept of “co-regulation”, which combines voluntary and regulatory initiatives. The present paper concludes that while the existing avenues should be maintained and strengthened, they should be combined with international enforcement and co-regulatory initiatives in order to hold TNCs accountable for human rights violations.
Second semester University: Université Libre de Bruxelles.
accountability, human rights violations, transnational corporations