Shared Responsibility and Multinational Enterprises
SHARES Research Paper 60 (2015), ACIL 2015-02
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This article is part of the collection of articles on Organised Non-State Actors, edited by Jean d'Aspremont, André Nollkaemper, Ilias Plakokefalos and Cedric Ryngaert. The collection was organised with support of the research project on Shared Responsibility in International Law (SHARES) at the Amsterdam Center for International Law (ACIL) of the University of Amsterdam, the Utrecht Centre for Accountability and Liability Law, and the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies. Published in: (2015) 62 Netherlands International Law Review 91-117.
The relationship between public international law and multinational enterprises (MNEs) has over the last decades emerged as one of the most hotly debated topics in theory and practice. Arguments have often been voiced for the creation of international law obligations binding on MNEs. Such obligations may serve as a deterrent to corporate conduct with nefarious consequences for the enjoyment by individuals of their human rights and the environment. The current article approaches the state-MNE relationship through the analytical lens of ‘shared responsibility under international law’. Thus, it assesses whether the current system of international responsibility rules provides the necessary tools to allocate responsibility between states and MNEs in situations where these actors contribute to harmful outcomes proscribed by international law. Second, it will turn to the potential pathways for the implementation of such responsibility on an international and domestic level. Finally, the article will provide an overview of the key standard-setting initiatives undertaken within the framework of the United Nations in relation to the conduct of MNEs. Ultimately, the international legal system allows for various conceptualisations of the ‘shared responsibility’ between states and MNEs, which operate in parallel towards the closing of the perceived ‘accountability gap’ associated with the conduct of MNEs.