n South African Journal on Human Rights - The long march to binding obligations of transnational corporations in International Human Rights Law

Volume 22, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



States are no longer the sole source of human rights violations. In the context of increasing economic globalisation, non-state actors - particularly transnational corporations (TNCs) - have assumed enormous powers which were once considered to fall within the exclusive preserve of the state. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for states to regulate and control these actors to ensure that they do not commit human rights violations or that they are held accountable for those violations. The UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regard to Human Rights (UN Norms) adopted in 2003 by the UN Sub-Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights are the most significant step the international community has taken towards developing binding human rights standards for TNCs. Development of the UN Norms was motivated by the need to fill the vacuum created by lapses in the operation of the doctrine of state responsibility and gaps in the implementation of voluntary corporate guidelines or codes. Relying on the experience of earlier efforts to develop human rights standards for corporations and their effectiveness, this article argues that the idea of human rights would risk losing its vitality if the UN Norms were to be adopted by the UN General Assembly as a voluntary mechanism and without meaningful enforcement mechanisms.

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