Corporate Complicity in Internet Censorship in China: Who Cares for the Global Compact or the Global Online Freedom Act?
George Washington International Law Review, Vol. 39, pp. 255-319, 2007
66 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2007
The involvement of corporations in human rights abuses is arguably as old as the institution of corporation. Corporate involvement in abuses can be traced to as early as the activities of the British East India Company, a time when even the notion of human rights in its present form was unknown. In the 20th century, the corporate complicity of various multinational corporations (MNCs) in human rights abuses has attracted wide media attention, engagement of non-governmental organisations, academic critique, and judicial scrutiny. The alleged involvement of several leading US corporations - Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google and Cisco - in Internet censorship in China is the most recent chain in this long saga of corporate complicity.
This article critically evaluates the efficacy of two regulatory initiatives - the UN Global Compact and the US Global Online Freedom Act - in dealing with the specific challenges posed by doing business with or within China. In considering how much promise these two initiatives offer in ensuring that corporations take their human rights responsibilities seriously, two specific claims are advanced. First, that the Global Compact has failed not only in convincing US corporations to embrace, support and enact its ten principles, but also in ensuring that participant corporations seriously fulfill their undertaken commitments. Such a US-specific inquiry is especially relevant because many MNCs that have been sued for human rights abuses have a presence in the US. The second claim is that although home state extraterritorial regulation is a potential option to tame MNCs' abusive activities, it is unlikely that the Freedom Act, even if enacted, will achieve its goal of promoting Internet freedom globally by combating censorship by authoritarian foreign governments.
Keywords: Corporate Complicity, Internet Censorship, Freedom of Speech in China, Global Compact, Global Online Freedom Act, Extraterritorial Regulation
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