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From the Dutch East India Company to the corporate bill of rights: corporations and international law

Baars, G. (2015). From the Dutch East India Company to the corporate bill of rights: corporations and international law. In: Mattei, U. & Haskell, J. (Eds.), Research Handbook on Political Economy and Law. (pp. 260-279). Edward Elgar.


The corporation - and especially its more complex, globally networked version, the multinational enterprise - is increasingly a target of intense debate. Critics report on ‘corporate complicity’ in conflict situations, environmental disasters and degradation in the oil, gas and mining sectors, the privatisation of war through the use of mercenary-like contractors, the monopolisation of intellectual property rights over essential medicines, the buying up of vast swathes of agricultural land in povertystricken areas of the Third World, the commodification and for-profit provision of various previously essential public services such as education and healthcare, and finally the seemingly reckless speculation on financial markets, leading to taxpayerfunded bailouts. It is felt that corporate power is able to grow unchecked, giving rise to ‘corporate excess’,that international trade rules are skewed in corporations’ favour, that bilateral investment treaties and instruments such as the putative transatlantic trade and investment treaty (TTIP) will provide a ‘Corporate Bill of Rights’, that ‘corporate accountability’ is falling short, and that we experience ‘governance by corporations’. Indeed, it has come to the point, perhaps the point of neoliberalism’s resolution between ‘the public’ and ‘the private’, that we increasingly look to corporations for leadership in both the realm of ideas and management. Although oftentimes corporations’ influence over, abuse of, or impunity from, international law are identified as key causes of our discomfort with corporate power, a deeper understanding of the precise relationship between (multinational) corporations and (international) law remains absent in such critiques. In this chapter I show how a historical reading of the concurrent development of corporations, law and capitalism can lead us to an alternative assessment of ‘the question of the corporation’ and why we might formulate different responses to this question in today’s global political economy. In particular, an understanding of the relationship between corporations, law and capitalism should enable us to reassess to what extent law is an adequate response to this question.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: Copyright Edward Elgar 2015. Chapter is for private use only.
Subjects: J Political Science > JX International law
K Law > KZ Law of Nations
Departments: The City Law School
The City Law School > International Law and Affairs Group
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