New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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In Malcolm Langford, Wouter Vandenhole, Martin Scheinin, and Willem van Genugten (eds.), GLOBAL JUSTICE, STATE DUTIES: THE EXTRA-TERRITORIAL SCOPE OF ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS IN INTERNATIONAL LAW (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2012).


International financial institutions and transnational corporations exert increasing influence on the human rights of populations worldwide. Simultaneously, growing global power imbalances make it increasingly difficult for weaker States to assert full control over policies that are central to their ability to fulfill their human rights obligations. While international human rights norms, and particularly economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, may have an important role to play in addressing this power imbalance, the existing human rights legal framework is ill-equipped to deal with economic globalization and the human rights impact of powerful global actors. This Paper proposes a way in which these actors may be held accountable for their impacts under existing international human rights law. It first discusses accountability gaps in international law that undermine effective implementation of ESC rights, particularly those relating to non-state and foreign actors. It then critiques two existing arguments on how to read extraterritorial obligations into the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and proposes an alternative method that differentiates between the types of extraterritorial rights obligations that a State may incur. It concludes by suggesting specific ways that international financial institutions and transnational corporations can be held indirectly accountable for the ESC rights violations to which they contribute.

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International Human Rights Law, extraterritorial obligations, economic and social rights, right to food, non-state actors, international financial institutions, transnational corporations, ICESCR, economic globalization