Corporations as Semi-States

Corporations as Semi-States, 57 Colum. J. Transnat'l L. 221 (2019)

William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-398

63 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2019

Date Written: June 12, 2019


When Ebola came to West Africa in 2014, Liberia could not cope. The State’s already fragile public health infrastructure was largely ineffective in responding to the illness and preventing its spread. And, the World Health Organization’s support was slow and stilted. By contrast, Firestone, a tire company that operates a vast rubber plantation in Liberia and runs its own hospital for 80,000 employees, family dependents, and persons in neighboring localities, responded to the virus much more effectively.

This Article uses Firestone’s Ebola response as an entry point to study a phenomenon too frequently overlooked. Many for-profit firms that maintain operations in failed and fragile States discharge significant quasi-governmental functions. They provide security, housing, food, water, transportation, infrastructure, and healthcare. And, they undertake such tasks not only for their employees but, sometimes, these businesses also reach beyond their own private domain to respond to challenges impacting the local community. Yet, legal scholarship on failed and fragile States largely ignores the provision of public goods by these business entities.

This Article suggests that much work remains to be done to grapple with the implications of the various functions undertaken by these business entities. The Article first details instances of corporations acting as semi-States to add fresh nuance to the prevailing narrative concerning the role of business in failed and fragile States. It then marshals theoretical insights available at the intersection of corporate law and international law to suggest a more complex understanding of the behavior of profit-motivated actors in the State’s absence.

The Article then applies this renovated model to question the appropriateness of laws that dissuade firms from operating in failed and fragile States. It flags and addresses reasons for caution but also considers alternative means through which the international community might better foster the socially beneficial potential of for-profit firms operating in failing States.

Keywords: International Law

Suggested Citation

Butler, Jay, Corporations as Semi-States (June 12, 2019). Corporations as Semi-States, 57 Colum. J. Transnat'l L. 221 (2019), William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-398 , Available at SSRN:

Jay Butler (Contact Author)

University of Virginia ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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