Hungarian Yearbook of International Law and European Law

Article

International Law Issues in Human Rights and the World of Business

Authors Lénárd Sándor
Author's information

Lénárd Sándor
Constitutional Court of Hungary, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest.
  • Abstract

      One of the prominent international human rights issues of the past decades has been the question of responsibility for human rights infringements related to the activities of nongovernmental actors and especially transnational corporations (TNCs). This challenge is directly related to the continuous increase in foreign capital investments witnessed in the past fifty years. The phenomenon is faithfully characterised by the fact that there are 80,000 transnational companies and some ten times as many subsidiaries operating in today’s world economy whose impact on people’s everyday lives has been steadily growing. This study aims to outline certain correlations between this new phenomenon of the business world and internationally acknowledged human rights. Within this framework the study attempts to explore the essence of the dilemma and presents the international law attempts aimed to remedy the infringements. Finally, the study analyses the international law solution currently in force and then examines the perspectives of the latest efforts.
      Traditionally speaking, human rights and theworldof businessrepresent two fields of law that do not, or rarely do overlap. The main reason for this is that, while human rights provide protection from arbitrary legislation and state measures primarily, the activities of business actors, including enterprises of various legal forms, are governed by law. This leads to the traditional view that the two fields may mainly overlap if arbitrary legislation or public power measures restrict or violate basic human rights that by nature apply to economic actors as well.1 This interpretation is faithfully reflected also by the case law of international human rights forums like the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR),according to which the protection of the property rights and the good reputation of economic actors are essential not only for the benefit of the individual shareholders and employees but also for the healthy operation and development of the wider economy.2 In other words, according to the traditional view of the relationship of human rights and the business world some of the human rights facilitate the development of business players’ economic/business activity and protect their market operations from arbitrary state interventions and public power measures.
      This traditional view has, at the same time, been complemented by a series of new phenomena in the past fifty years that shed new light on the correlations between human rights and the business world as well ason the role and task of human rights in the world of business. All over the world the traditional theorem that human rights can exclusively provide protection from the arbitrariness of state measures or serve as a benchmark for state legislation and, accordingly, their role in the business world may ultimately be restricted to the protection of the market and its players, has been refuted increasingly frequently. This continuous change and expansion of the roles of businesses have primarily been triggered by the trade and capital liberalisation that has been characteristic for the past fifty years and has fit closely with the general globalisation process of the world economy. This liberalisation was both extremely enhanced in intensity and extended geographically by the political changes characterizing the early 1990s. The ultimate liberalisation of colonial empires and territories on the one hand and the collapse of the communist political and economic regimes on the other hand opened way to an exceptional economic integration. This phenomenon is characterised by several authors, including the historian and political scientist Henry Kissinger in his latest book, as a governance gap, i. e. a sort of regulatory hiatus.3 This expression implies that one of the major challenges faced by today’s international community, as a consequence of the globalisation of the world economy, is a hiatus in legal and especially international law regulations. What specific human rights infringements indicate this novel dilemma? What attempts have been made in the past fifty years to remedy these human rights infringements? What framework does international law currently offer to remedy these infringements? What future ambitions are envisaged in this field? This study gives an overview of this novel challenge of international law and explores these topical dilemmas of the field. First it gives a brief overview of the essence of the new phenomenon of human rights infringements (10.1), followed by the description of the international law efforts aimed to remedy the infringements (10.2). The study then outlines the international law regulations currently in force, meant to address this challenge, and finally it examines the perspectives of the latest initiative (10.3).
      The study aims to present a comprehensive picture of certain correlations between the world of business and internationally acknowledged human rights. By analysing the development of international law, it wishes to contribute to systemising this challenging public debate and to further considering the potential courses of the required reforms.

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