Corporations, Universalism and the Domestication of Race in International Law
Forthcoming in Duncan Bell (ed.), Empire, Race and Global Justice (Cambridge University Press)
19 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2019
Date Written: January 29, 2018
In this chapter, I will contrast two normative approaches to the question of justice between peoples which emerged during the period of decolonization in the Twentieth Century, and which circulate in international law and institutions. These approaches have struggled through the period of the ‘Cold War’ to the present day. The first, underpinned by an historically decontextualized, moral universalism, sees ‘poverty’ as a threat to world peace, prosperity and security and its ‘alleviation’ as a gesture of enlightened self-interest. The second is inflected by an historical and political-economic understanding of global inequality as resulting from an active impoverishment of the Third World by the First World during the period of imperialism, and potentially remediable through the acquisition of statehood and the development and deployment of international law. The concept of race figures in each of these approaches in different ways, but has merged over time to divorce racialized disparities from analyses of global economic inequality. In order to illustrate this struggle, and the changed analytical valency of race, I will trace the attempt made in the 1970’s, by the ‘Group of 77’ states, to assert international legal control over trans or multi-national corporations, and the contemporaneous response by the West, which prefigured the transformation of the initiative after the end of the Cold War. This example is a site in which the rival accounts of ‘global justice’ did battle. Re-reading this struggle with race in mind, both suggests what might be at stake in their competing political and jurisprudential visions and reveals the racialized underpinnings of the way that authority and responsibility are distributed in international law and institutions today.
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