Enforcement of Human Rights on Multi-National Corporations: Global Climate, Strategies and Trends for Compliance

Article excerpt


Engaging in a human rights discussion concerning multi-national corporation (MNC) enforcement is multi-dimensional. Economic, political, social and profit issues, among others, dangle precariously from the web of an increasingly global community that debates the issue of human rights enforcement. Examination of the cacophony of compliance mechanisms must be viewed in the shadow of these rapidly changing issues.


A. International Political Climate

When human rights issues and economics combine the debate therein becomes highly political.(1) The increase of U.S. corporate expansion extraterritorially gives rise to a heated debate worldwide on the role corporations' play in the international human rights arena. The political dichotomy between interests of developing countries and those with market economies makes it very difficult to determine the very foundation of the human rights debate.(2) Within the UN General Assembly, competing views arise between developing countries who value "respect for cultural and religious diversity around the world, respect for sovereignty and an end to the politicization of human rights issues," and those of developed countries who argue for fundamental standards of human rights and stress the hierarchy of individual liberty over economic and social rights.(3)

B. Climate Change With Emergence of Developing Nations

1. Enticement of Low Wage Markets

While the tide of political sentiment continues to question the very essence of human rights, developing countries swim with powerful strokes into the international economic market.(4) Developing countries entice MNC's with low wages and an increasingly more skilled and productive workforce.(5) Certain sectors of the U.S. labor market suffer from the competition developing countries provide.(6) The steel and textiles industries are examples of "labor-intensive" segments that have been weakened by the increased globalization of the labor market.(7)

Many MNC's who take advantage of such high profit, low wage labor markets do not abide by the international labor standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO).(8) The ILO was created in 1919 in an attempt to remove injustice in global labor markets.(9) The framers felt the injustices were enough to "imperil" world safety.(10) Many argue the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has only added to the failure of the ILO's effectiveness.(11)

Instances of slavery, child labor, and unpaid prison labor are among the most visible injustices in developing countries.(12) Children in India and Pakistan are commonly found working to help support their low-income families.(13) Without work making items such as rugs, children may be relegated to work in even worse situations.(14)

Local opposition in India to Enron, a U.S. corporation, has led to farmer grievances of unfair seizure of land and diversion of water for corporate needs.(15) Fishermen also protest in fear that power generation from the US plant will increase seawater temperature and kill fish vital to their survival.(16)

Such abuses seem repugnant to many in developed countries, most of whom, like the U.S., do not recall similar abuses in the early U.S. industrial age.(17) It is unfair to place the entire burden of human rights management on developing countries.(18) Most of the developing countries cannot provide the kind of human rights protection afforded by developed nations.(19) Developing countries are caught between the need for economic stability, development and fulfillment of international laws and treaties signed by the government.(20) When governments enter into business, it is difficult to say that they should also be the "watch dog" of their own human rights practice.(21)

2. Call to the Global Market vs. Human Rights

The emergence of developing countries into the global market evokes issues of formulation of appropriate human rights standards, determination of governance over such standards, and conflicts between the competing interests of economic development and human rights. …