The Emergence of Customary International Law Recognizing Corporate Liability for Violations of International Human Rights and Environmental Law

Kathleen Morris, Golden Gate University School of Law

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“With the exception of a handful of nation-states, multinationals are alone in possessing the size, technology, and economic reach necessary to influence human affairs on a global basis.” Half of the world’s 100 greatest powers are transnational (or multinational) corporations. The vast financial power and economic influence of transnational corporations (TNCs) enables them to affect human rights and the environment in a fundamental way. TNCs represent a huge proportion of the world’s economy and much of their operations exploit natural and human resources in developing countries. Unfortunately, TNCs have been responsible for human rights abuses and environmental disasters of immense magnitude. TNCs also have the power to protect the human rights of people in the developing countries in which they operate. International custom stemming from judicial recognition of corporate liability, international instruments addressing TNCs, stricter corporate regulations in developing countries, as well as voluntary codes of conduct by TNCs have begun to develop which should allow TNCs to be held legally liable for human rights abuses and environmental damage they cause.