The Corporate Keepers of International Law

20th Session of the Yale/Stanford/Harvard Junior Faculty Forum (June 2019)

61 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2019 Last revised: 21 Aug 2019

See all articles by Jay Butler

Jay Butler

William & Mary Law School

Date Written: June 2019


Can Airbnb enforce international law? Should it? This Article argues that the answer to these questions may sometimes be yes and that many other companies like Airbnb are already acting to support the implementation of international law in ways that are important but often overlooked.

Business is both central to state interests on the global stage, but also oddly estranged from the formal framework of international law. This Article tackles that curious paradox by highlighting the increasingly significant role of corporations as actors within international law’s fraught enforcement mechanisms. From international environmental law, to international human rights law, to territorial disputes, to international investment, to anti-corruption and even international human rights and humanitarian law, corporations are beginning to play a vital role in enhancing the effectiveness of international law rules and prohibitions.

This Article examines the business of international law enforcement and grapples with the potential of corporations to serve as keepers of international law. It uncovers the various ways that business decisionmaking contributes to the implementation of international law, and it considers the normativity of this corporate dimension to the international system’s enforcement paradigm. The Article flags reasons for concern, but also seeks to open new ground for vital scholarly and policy conversations on the evolving nature of international law and the proper role of corporations within the global legal system.

Keywords: International Law

Suggested Citation

Butler, Jay, The Corporate Keepers of International Law (June 2019). 20th Session of the Yale/Stanford/Harvard Junior Faculty Forum (June 2019), Available at SSRN: or

Jay Butler (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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