Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

Sustainable Development: A Strategy That Reflects the Effects of Globalization on the International Power Structure

Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

Sustainable Development: A Strategy That Reflects the Effects of Globalization on the International Power Structure

Article excerpt


All day they've raced round in the heat, at top speeds, Unsuccessfully trying to sell Zizzer-Zoof Seeds, Which nobody wants because nobody needs.(1)

The proponents of sustainable development, like the sellers of Zizzer-Zoof Seeds, are racing around unsuccessfully trying to generate public interest in a product that nobody seems to want. The concept of sustainable development refers to balancing economic growth with social and environmental concerns in order to ensure the continual availability of resources for the future.(2) Unlike Zizzer-Zoof Seeds, however, sustainable development is not only needed, it is essential to the long-term viability of society.

To achieve their goal, advocates of sustainable development must use a more progressive strategy than passively relying upon national governments to enforce international agreements and domestic laws. Economic globalization has altered the international power structure, weakening the ability of national governments to solve global problems.(3)

Multinational corporations ("MNCs") have emerged as the dominant global power(4) and therefore should have both the means and the influence to transform sustainable development from a lofty platitude to meaningful implementation. By meeting harmonized development standards, MNCs can make sustainable development an integral part of the international community. Their cooperation will not occur, however, without motivation.

MNCs can be motivated by expanding the disclosure requirements of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's ("SEC") to include all three components of sustainability: economic prosperity, social equity and environmental protection. Fearing lost profits due to adverse publicity, MNCs would adopt sustainability standards to demonstrate compliance with the new SEC disclosure requirements.

The SEC currently requires financial disclosure or corporate financial transparency.(5) Information about a company's social and environmental impact, or social transparency, can also be required if the information is in the public interest or for the protection of investors.(6) The U.S. government can generate the requisite interest by initiating a public education program to convey an understanding of the importance of sustainable development.

Through public education the government can address its traditional obligation to protect societal values. This educational approach will also enable the United States to fulfill its commitment to the implementation of sustainable development.(7)

Part I of this article reviews the history of sustainable development and the general acknowledgement of a global failure to implement sustainable practices. Part II analyzes why the recent global redistribution of wealth and power has caused international agreements to fail to bring about sustainable development. The North American Free Trade Agreement ("NAFTA")(8) and the conditions at the border between the United States and Mexico are cited in Part III as an example of the ineffectiveness of international agreements at controlling corporate conducts.

Part IV offers the solution of altering international corporate behaviors by exposing MNCs to more intense public scrutiny. The means of effectuating this solution, including the development of harmonized standards and public education, are discussed in Part V. This article concludes that the solution proposed comports with recognized principles of international environmental law, including state sovereignty,(9) the "polluter pays" principle,(l0) the duty to cooperate,(11) and the right to development.(12) This solution is effectuated via existing governmental systems and mechanisms and requires no new legislation. This article proposes an effective means of translating sustainable development from academic discourse to significant action.


Anyone who has managed personal finances understands the concept of sustainable renewable and nonrenewable resources. …

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