The Right to Food: Holding Global Actors Accountable Under International Law

87 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2006

See all articles by Smita Narula

Smita Narula

Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University


Economic globalization represents both an unmet opportunity and a significant challenge for the fulfillment of social and economic rights, including the right to food. While corporate sector accountability and the responsibility of international financial institutions (IFIs) to ensure social and economic rights are now at the forefront of the globalization discourse, greater attention must be paid to how these actors can be held accountable under international law. The existing human rights legal framework is ill-equipped to deal with violations committed by non-state actors, such as transnational corporations (TNCs), and multi-state actors, such as IFIs. Using the right to food as an entry point, this Article argues that international law is in need of rethinking under globalization. The Article begins with a comparison of economic and rights-based approaches to economic development and food security. Part I articulates the normative content of the right to food and examines threats to the right to food from states, IFIs, and TNCs. In particular, it analyzes the economic prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund and the growth of TNCs in both the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors. Part I then argues that effective implementation of the right to food is undermined by the state-centric focus and jurisdictional constraints of international human rights law. Part II asserts that under the obligation of international cooperation, States Parties to the ICESCR must respect and protect the right to food extraterritorially. This includes an obligation to regulate the activities of TNCs and IFIs over which they exercise influence or control. Part III addresses the need to locate the right to food outside of the international treaty law framework to ensure the accountability of non-ICESCR ratifying states. It analyzes the right to food as customary international law and concludes that the minimum core component of the right to food - the right to be free from hunger - may have already achieved customary status.

Keywords: Human rights, right to food, globalization, corporate accountability, world bank, international monetary fund, customary international law, economic and social rights, ICESCR, economic development, multinationals, poverty

JEL Classification: K33, F23, F02, F34, F43

Suggested Citation

Narula, Smita, The Right to Food: Holding Global Actors Accountable Under International Law. Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 44, p. 691, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Smita Narula (Contact Author)

Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States
10603 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics