There is an increasing interest in the international sector on the imputation of human rights on Multinational Corporations (MNCs). This issue is perpetrated by the flagrant influence MNCs have in the major sectors in the economy, especially the energy, information technology (IT), textile and finance industries. This paper highlights the importance of imputing human rights obligations on MNCs.
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Human rights obligations which come into question in the operations of MNCs include: child labor, safe and healthy working conditions, employee discrimination, and employee trade unions. It raises an argument whether home countries of MNCs are responsible for ensuring these corporations adhere to upholding human rights, or if it’s upon the individual corporations themselves. International instruments however, address various states and thus it falls upon the state to engineer mechanisms to address violation of human rights orchestrated by these corporations. The law in addition, punishes natural persons rather than legal entities, thus maintaining the legal rights of the company, as opposed to bringing justice to the violation of certain rights (Muchlinski, 2000).
Host states are also responsible for regulating the activities of MNCs within their boundaries. However, host states may have their hands tied when imposing heavy restrictions on these corporations, lest they lose the services offered by the corporation.
The inclusion of conditions in international agreements which directly reflect on MNCs in upholding human rights is a useful method of imposing responsibility on individual companies. This is a developing aspect in law which acquired recognition in the United States case, Doe v Unocal. The court held that under the Alien Torts Claim Act, MNCs are liable for the violation of human rights in their duties (Muchlinski, 2000).
The argument of whether it is valid to impose obligations on violation of human rights on MNCs calls to reason the minimum caliber MNCs should maintain in their obligations towards human rights. The decision in the year 2000 in the above case of Doe v Unocal highlighted the fact that the corporations are only liable if they directly contributed to the violation of rights either by engineering the activities or participating in them. The court will not hold a company liable where it only knew of the violations (Muchlinski, 2000).
International organizations have in place guidelines to establish human rights obligations in MNCs for example, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD aims to ensure that through the regulations set down MNCs maintain ethical business conduct in their operations which are consistent with the international human rights laws. The OECD represents guidelines recognized by MNCs across different states. The International Labor Organization (ILO) also introduced a Tripartite Declaration whose aim is to implement and maintain certain labor standards among MNCs (United Nation Economic and Social Council, 2002).
The United Nations Commission of Human Rights stipulates the required conduct of MNCs including fair treatment of workers, provision of safe and healthy working conditions, collective bargaining and respect of the host nation policies (United Nation Economic and Social Council, 2002). Upholding these standards not only benefits the workers of the host country, but also boosts the company’s national image.
The imposition of human rights on MNCs does indeed raise issues in terms of incorporation into the company’s policies and the legal rights particular to MNCs. Taking into consideration the influence MNCs have in the international arena, and in the development of laws, the author views that MNCs should incorporate ways of upholding human rights in their activities in host countries and take responsibility for any failures on their part.
- Muchlinski, P., (2000). Human Rights and Multinationals: Is There a Problem.
- United Nation Economic and Social Council, (2002). Human Rights Principles and Responsibilities for Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises. Web.