Oil and Water: Regulating the Behavior of Multinational Corporations Through Law

24 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2007

See all articles by Simon Chesterman

Simon Chesterman

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law


Regulating the activities of multinational corporations, especially oil companies, represents a fundamental challenge to the international legal order, which is premised on the centrality of states. The fact that the largest multinationals now dwarf the economies of many countries and frequently mobilize greater political influence is suggestive of their importance. Nevertheless, far more consideration has gone into analyzing the international legal status of natural persons - especially in the context of international criminal law - than their juridical counterparts. This Article will survey attempts to fit corporations into the state-based international order in three discrete jurisdictions. First, and most obviously, it is appropriate to regulate the activities of a corporation through mechanisms in the jurisdiction within which it is actually operating. Sometimes this may not be possible, however. A state may be unable or unwilling to regulate the activities of an entity with an operating budget substantially greater than that of the country itself. Alternatively, the government itself may be perpetrating abuses in which a corporation is complicit. Second, therefore, attempts are sometimes made to pursue legal remedies in the home jurisdiction of a multinational corporation - especially when that jurisdiction is the United States. A third jurisdiction in which legal remedies may be pursued is that of international law as such, particularly through the emerging discourse of international criminal law.

Keywords: multinational corporations, corporate social responsibility (CSR), United Nations, Global Compact, international criminal law, International Criminal Court

Suggested Citation

Chesterman, Simon, Oil and Water: Regulating the Behavior of Multinational Corporations Through Law. New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, Vol. 36, pp. 307-329, 2004, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=969592

Simon Chesterman (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law ( email )

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