Reflections on an Environmental Struggle: P&O, Dahanu and the Regulation of Multinational Enterprises

Posted: 28 Feb 2003

See all articles by Oren Perez

Oren Perez

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law


This article tells the story of an environmental struggle, which took place in Dahanu, India in the late 1990s. The conflict was triggered by a decision of the Government of Maharashtra to build an international port in a small fishing village in the Dahanu region, 120 km north of Bombay. The contract to build the port was awarded to P&O Australia, part of the (international) P&O group. The planned port would have been, when completed, the biggest deep-water port in India, and would have caused severe damage to Dahanu's fragile social and eco-systems. The local community has started an international campaign against the project. The article describes how this campaign has unfolded, setting it against the unique social landscape of modern India. The narrative of Dahanu is then used as a platform for investigating two more general legal problems. The first problem concerns the regulation of Multinational Enterprises. The story of Dahanu exposes the weaknesses of contemporary international law in terms of regulating Multinational Enterprises - especially in the context of developing countries. The second problem is a reflection of a more abstract legal puzzle. The struggle against the port involved two different legal domains: the international and the local. A close analysis of these domains reveals a strange picture of intense 'legalization', which is nonetheless highly ineffective. The article considers whether, and under what conditions, the law can sustain itself as an independent social system, while having no effect on social praxis. In this context the article questions the validity of instrumental models of law, especially those invoked by the 'law and economics' school. In addition to providing a 'thick' description of the conflict over the port, the article pursues, therefore, two goals: the first is a critique of the regulation of transnational projects and Multinational Enterprises; the second is an inquiry into the nature of law as a social system.

Keywords: international environmental law, regulation of Multinational Enterprises, India, legal theory, environmental groups, social theory, nature of law as a social system, environmental protection in developing countries

JEL Classification: Q2

Suggested Citation

Perez, Oren, Reflections on an Environmental Struggle: P&O, Dahanu and the Regulation of Multinational Enterprises. Available at SSRN:

Oren Perez (Contact Author)

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law
Ramat Gan, 52900
+972-3-5317798 (Phone)
+972-3-5351856 (Fax)

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