International obligations have been developed to assist States – particularly vulnerable countries in the developing world – to further develop domestic legislation that will protect them from potential abuse particularly from multinational cooperations, such as the Maastricht Guidelines that explains the obligations of the State to adhere to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as explicated in the international covenants. The willingness of domestic courts to implement domestic laws on crimes committed internationally, such as the United State’ District Courts and the Aliens Tort Claims Act 1789 has provided further scope to challenge businesses that may act unethically in foreign countries. With the growing pressure from NGOs and the broader public in relation to activities by multinational companies that works as a preventative measure to ensure compliance to international codes of business conduct and corporate behaviour, changing ethical attitudes has become an important component to business practice models that is now slowly changing how they behave to ensure economic sustainability.
Corporate crime can involve economic, political and industrial failures leading to organisational decisions that can possibly affect not just the individual employee or employees, but also the broader community in general. From well known litigation cases against chemical companies guilty of both environmental and human rights abuses or pharmaceutical companies restricting access to life-saving medications, the topic of human rights and business responsibility on a global scale is at the forefront of the international economic agenda, particularly since the capacity for multinational entities to commit serious crimes at a large scale can also conversely be the key to effectively promoting and even safeguarding human rights.
However, as there remains no internationally enforceable remedy against potential multinational corruption and when considering the power of multinational enterprises’ particularly in the developing world or failed States, national sovereignty becomes questionable and criminal acts such as bribery of public officials and human rights abuses become increasingly possible. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for instance, following the tragedy of war and violence in the region, Dyncorp Enterprise – private security contractors – had staff responsible for the rape and trafficking of girls as young as twelve years of age. Whistleblower Kathryn Bolkovac, who was deployed on a peacekeeping mission and who uncovered the scandal was instead threatened and finally dismissed, a case of unfair dismissal confirmed by the employment tribunal in the United Kingdom. The staff responsible for committing the criminal act of human trafficking in the region were merely moved and have yet to be charged since any remedy to such crime is based on the State’ duty to protect, evidently an issue when considering failed states, along with little explanation on what the State – being the United States in the case of Dyncorp Enterpise – has in regulating such criminal behaviour.
Pressuring states is not uncommon even in developed countries, with international tobacco corporations pursuing action against Australia in Philip Morris v Australia. Whilst it is clear Australia’ aim is to protect human health and safety through plain packaging as an investment procedure toward the reduction of preventable deaths, Philip Morris Asia disputed the change by claiming breaches to provisions in trade agreements with Hong Kong. “The Australian Government rejects PM Asia’s claim that it has breached the obligation under Article 6 not to deprive investors of their investments or subject investors to measures having effect equivalent to such deprivation.”
In Doe v Exxon Mobil, a group of Indonesian villagers from Aceh filed a lawsuit against oil company Exxon Mobil Corporation where the plaintiffs held that the company had hired security forces that committed human rights abuses against members of the village including torture, kidnapping, arbitrary arrests and murder. It is thus alleged that the company’ negligent hiring and supervising of the security forces carries responsibility since they indirectly facilitated the violence. A multinational enterprise’ purpose is to ‘advance their own economic interest’ and doing so with entities that perpetrate human rights violations expose their indirect contribution to negligence and thus by extension contributory to the harm suffered. Thus, the question is, how far does the scope of responsibility extends? As instantiated at the beginning, whilst we are aware of the rights of the human person, corresponding and equally as significant are our obligations.
The demands of consumers themselves are changing, with companies adopting the purchase of ethically sourced products, for instance the multinational company Starbucks who has adopted a sustainable strategy known as C.A.F.E [coffee and farmer equity] for ethically sourced coffee, tea and cocoa. Additionally, the company also has ensured that farming communities linked in any way to their supply chain are managed by working closely with Conservation International, in addition to re-forestation projects. Organisations like Conservation International and Amnesty International are adopting preventative strategies that build or strengthen relationships with MNC’s as well as developing frameworks that supplant compliance through collaboration. In addition, the implementation of sanctions to pressure States to ensure compliance to human rights has also been an effective method that promotes change.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have established guidelines specific to multinational enterprises that promote responsible business conduct through appropriate stakeholder engagement models that heighten transparency of the activities of multinational organisations. Followed by the Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises, the recommendations themselves, whilst voluntary, attempt to ensure that companies adhere to human rights standards and combat fraudulent and criminal behaviour. The benefits that it can have on the economy of the State encourage social progress and thus contribute to positive domestic development.
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