Courting International Business: What Are the Human Rights Obligations of Global Capitalism? (Capitalism)

By Aaronson, Susan Ariel | The International Economy, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Courting International Business: What Are the Human Rights Obligations of Global Capitalism? (Capitalism)


Aaronson, Susan Ariel, The International Economy


In recent years, many of America's largest and most prominent multinational companies have been called to court to defend their international business practices. For example, Exxon Mobil was sued by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) for allegedly aiding and abetting human rights violations by the military in Indonesia. Del Monte has been sued by the for allegedly permitting local managers to torture union leaders in Guatemala. And Coca-Cola has been sued by the United Steel Workers for allegedly hiring right-wing death squads to frighten workers at its bottling plant in Colombia.

These cases have been brought under two laws, the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1992. The Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) provides federal courts with jurisdiction over violations of the "law of nations," and the Torture Victim Protection Act applies only to torture and extrajudicial killing. The plaintiffs seek to determine whether corporations can be held accountable in U.S. courts for human rights and other abuses carried out by foreign governments against non-U.S, citizens. Although many of these cases have progressed in U.S. courts, not one has yet proceeded to trial. Nonetheless, business leaders are very concerned.

Most of these cases have been brought by international human rights organizations such as the Earth Rights Institute, Amnesty International, and the ILRF mentioned above. However, last year, attorneys brought two broad class action lawsuits under the ATCA which allege injury based on vicarious or indirect liability. The plaintiffs allege that some of the world's most visible multinationals indirectly caused injury when products or services they sold to the South African government were used to undermine human rights during the apartheid era. The first suit was filed in June, 2002, by Ed Fagen (one of the lawyers who pioneered the lawsuits against insurance companies, banks, and corporations that profited from property and labor stolen during the Holocaust). This suit seeks damages for personal injuries inflicted on the plaintiffs through a variety of means during the apartheid era (1948-1993) based on the theory that the defendants' actions caused the injuries by perpetuating the apartheid regime. The defendants were charged with culpability for lending funds used to bolster police and armed forces under the apartheid regime. On November 11, 2002, a similar case was brought against some of America's most admired and socially responsible companies such as Ford, General Motors, IBM, and Hewlett Packard. Interestingly, the South African government has not supported these class action suits, fearing that they would undermine foreign investment.

Such lawsuits have not been addressed solely at U.S. multinationals nor limited to U.S. courts. Similar cases have also been brought in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. Ambassador Tom Niles, president of the U.S. Council for International Business (the U.S. arm of the International Chamber of Commerce), recently warned that these cases place executives and directors of companies that have done or are now doing business in countries with undemocratic regimes at increased risk of liability. Executives have also argued that trial lawyers will reap huge verdicts in frivolous cases against multinationals. And finally, they have asserted that the proliferation of these cases will force companies to reduce their investment in the developing world.

International law clearly delineates that companies have human rights responsibilities, although some of the specific responsibilities are ambiguous. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls upon all organs of society, whether civic groups, corporations, or governments, to protect and promote human rights. United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan has argued that corporations have a social responsibility and moral duty to use the power of markets to make globalization a positive force for all. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Courting International Business: What Are the Human Rights Obligations of Global Capitalism? (Capitalism)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.