Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Obesity Prevention: Assessing the Role of State and Non-State Actors under International Law

Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Obesity Prevention: Assessing the Role of State and Non-State Actors under International Law

Article excerpt

Table of Contents

I. Introduction.............................................................................................................217

II. "Globesity" Is on the Rise...................................................................................218

III. International Trade Liberalization Is Fattening Us Up..................................219

IV. International Efforts to Combat Obesity Are Toothless.............................222

V. The Domestic Toolbox to Fight the Flab is Limited by WTO Law.............224

A. Import Restrictions on Unhealthy Foods or Ingredients...........................225

1. The SPS Agreement......................................................................................226

2. Import restrictions on unhealthy food based on food safety.................227

B. Nutrition Labeling 228

1. The TBT Agreement 229

2. Mandatory labeling in Chile 230

3. Voluntary labeling in the U.K 231

C. "Fat" Taxes 232

1. Article 111:2 of the GATT 233

2. The Danish fat tax 233

D. Subsidies to Encourage Healthy Eating 234

1. The Agreement on Agriculture 235

2. Food stamps and incentives for healthy purchases 235

VI. Domestic Efforts to Fight Obesity Can Be Ineffective and Regressive 236

VII. Addressing Globesity Requires Imposing Legal Obligations on Non-State Actors That Have Thrived within the Global Free Trade System 239

A. Focus on Price-Barriers to Healthy Foods 242

B. Corporate Social Responsibility and International Law: The Wal-Mart

Solution 243

1. Negative and positive corporate duties under international law 244

2. Voluntary corporate commitments create international legal obligations: scope and enforceability 246

VIII. Conclusion 248

I. Introduction

Globally, the number of obese people is approaching the number of undernourished people.1 While commentators have blamed a number of factors for this trend, a particularly salient one is trade liberalization. Scholars have argued that trade liberalization affects the availability of certain foods because it removes barriers to foreign investment in food distribution.2 In response, governments have implemented a variety of policy measures to correct for their populations' growing waisdines. These measures are sometimes incongruous with the international trade laws safeguarded by the World Trade Organization (WTO), and as a result, countries may abandon or soften them so as to avoid sanctions or retaliation. These instances of incongruence suggest a degree of tension between the international trade regime and certain, although not all, government efforts to change unhealthy diet patterns.

In response, scholars have tried to interpret the various international trade law treaties in ways that would legitimize those diet-related policies that are in tension with the international trade regime.3 This Comment, though, will argue that the potential for these efforts to be ineffective and regressive demands that scholars and policymakers focus their efforts to alleviate "globesity" elsewhere- namely, on non-state actors, specifically corporations, that have particularly thrived within the global free trade system.4 This Comment posits that international human rights law should be understood as recognizing corporate responsibilities to address distributive barriers to healthy eating.

The sections below proceed as follows. Section II discusses global trends and provides background information regarding weight and diet. Section III argues that trade liberalization has contributed to the world's growing waistlines. Section IV discusses international efforts to fight obesity, and Section V then examines four different policy tools under WTO law that national governments have employed to combat obesity. Section VI questions the desirability of some of these state policies in terms of their efficacy and distributive effects. …

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